Fall colors can be magnificent in October, and fall color drives are a great addition to watching the fall bird migration.

Vast numbers of sandhill cranes are moving southward, and can often be seen at wildlife refuges throughout the state during the month of October. 

Sandhill cranes are large birds nearly 4 feet high with a wing span up to 7 feet wide. The cranes gather and feed in harvested fields during the day and rest in shallow water at night -- dawn and dusk offer the greatest shows. The graceful flight and raucous calls of thousands of sandhill cranes is a rare and memorable sight. 

One refuge known for drawing large numbers of sandhill cranes is Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in Zimmerman. When visiting, be sure to bring along a self-guided tour map to help you navigate the park.

Impressive numbers of hawks, falcons and other raptors continue their migration over Hawk Ridge along the Lake Superior flyway to avoid open water. The larger raptors generally migrate in October. Just some of the raptors you can expect to see in large numbers include bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, broad-winged hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, northern goshawks and turkey vultures. 

The Mississippi River is one of the four main migration routes in the United States, with hundreds of bird species passing through. This flyway is excellent for the fall migration during the month of October, as well as fall color. 

Did You Know?

Migrating birds need energy-rich food, as well as meals that don’t require a lot of energy to locate. Some of the best foods for migratory and resident birds include black oil sunflower seeds, white millet or millet mix, nyjer and suet. Peanuts are also a great source of energy -— shelled nuts allow birds to expend less energy to consume. 

If possible, leave a large area of brush clippings roughly 10 feet away to provide birds a safe retreat. A clean source of water is also beneficial. Once your feeding station is set up, watch for hungry sparrows, blackbirds, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers and finches. 

Also keep an eye out for returning dark-eyed juncos, the “harbingers” of winter. As birds establish their feeding patterns, you should be rewarded with a flurry of activity throughout the winter months.

Help the Birds

According to the most recent edition of BirdWire, the loss of three billion birds over the last 50 years has motivated many to do whatever is possible to help save our birds. Learn how to make a difference with these Seven Simple Actions To Help Birds:

1. Make windows safer, day and night

The challenge: Up to 1 billion birds are estimated to die each year after hitting windows in the United States and Canada.

The cause: By day, birds perceive reflections in glass as habitat they can fly into. By night, migratory birds drawn in by city lights are at high risk of colliding with buildings.

These simple steps save birds: On the outside of the window, install screens or break up reflections—using film, paint, or Acopian BirdSavers or other string spaced no more than two inches high or two inches wide

2. Keep cats indoors

The challenge: Cats are estimated to kill more than 2.6 billion birds annually in the U.S. and Canada. This is the number one human-caused reason for the loss of birds, aside from habitat loss.

Solutions that are good for cats and birds: Save birds and keep cats healthy by keeping cats indoors or creating an outdoor “catio.” You can also train your cat to walk on a leash.

Take it further: Speak out about the impacts of feral cat colonies in your neighborhood and on public lands. Unowned cats’ lives may be as short as two years because of disease and hardship, and they are responsible for more than two-thirds of birds killed by cats in North America.

3. Reduce lawn, plant natives

The challenge: Birds have fewer places to safely rest during migration and to raise their young: More than 10 million acres of land in the United States were converted to developed land from 1982 to 1997.

The cause: Lawns and pavement don’t offer enough food or shelter for many birds and other wildlife. With more than 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. alone (source), there’s huge potential to support wildlife by replacing lawns with native plantings.

Take it further: Add native plants and watch birds come in. Native plants add interest and beauty to your yard and neighborhood, and provide shelter and nesting areas for birds. The nectar, seeds, berries, and insects will sustain birds and diverse wildlife. 

4. Avoid pesticides

The challenge: More than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are applied in the United States each year. The continent’s most widely used insecticides, called neonicotinoids or “neonics,” are lethal to birds and to the insects that birds consume. 

The cause: Pesticides that are toxic to birds can harm them directly through contact, or if they eat contaminated seeds or prey. Pesticides can also harm birds indirectly by reducing the number of insects that birds need to survive.

A healthy choice for you, your family, and birds: Consider purchasing organic food. Nearly 70% of produce sold in the U.S. contains pesticides. Reduce pesticides around your home and garden. 

5. Drink shade-grown coffee

The challenge: Three-quarters of the world’s coffee farms grow their plants in the sun, destroying forests that birds and other wildlife need for food and shelter. Sun-grown coffee also often requires using environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers. On the other hand, shade-grown coffee preserves a forest canopy that helps migratory birds survive the winter.

The cause: Too few consumers are aware of the problems of sun coffee. Those who are aware may be reluctant to pay more for environmentally sustainable coffee.

Insist on shade-grown coffee that’s good for birds: It’s a win-win-win: it’s delicious, economically beneficial to coffee farmers, and helps more than 42 species of North American migratory songbirds that winter in coffee plantations, including orioles, warblers and thrushes.

6. Use less plastic

The challenge: It’s estimated that 4,900 million metric tons of plastic have accumulated in landfills and in our environment worldwide, polluting our oceans and harming wildlife such as seabirds, whales and turtles that mistakenly eat plastic, or become entangled in it.

The cause: Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, and 91% of plastics created are not recycled. Studies show that at least 80 seabird species ingest plastic, mistaking it for food. Cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, and other trash have been found in the stomachs of dead albatrosses.

Reduce your use of plastics: Avoid single-use plastics including bags, bottles, wraps, and disposable utensils. It’s far better to choose reusable items, but if you do have disposable plastic, be sure to recycle it.

7. Watch birds, share what you see

The challenge: The world’s most abundant bird, the Passenger Pigeon, went extinct, and people didn’t realize how quickly it was vanishing until it was too late. Monitoring birds is essential to help protect them, but tracking the health of the world’s 10,000 bird species is an immense challenge.

The cause: To understand how birds are faring, scientists need hundreds of thousands of people to report what they’re seeing in backyards, neighborhoods, and wild places around the world. Without this information, scientists will not have enough timely data to show where and when birds are declining around the world.

Enjoy birds while helping science and conservation: Join a project such as eBird, Project FeederWatch, a Christmas Bird Count, or a Breeding Bird Survey to record your bird observations. Your contributions will provide valuable information to show where birds are thriving—and where they need our help.

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