A message for the migratory birds: Have a safe journey

By Janet Carroll | Aug 29, 2012
Courtesy of: James Ownby The Western Tanager is one of five tanager species in North America. The other tanager males have mostly red, not bright yellow plumage, but all the females are dull yellow.

I set up a bird-feeding station in my backyard years ago, mostly for the enjoyment of my cat and mine.

It’s exciting to see what comes and goes each year, and like a good birdwatcher, I keep a list of all the birds I have seen in my backyard. Thus far, I have seen 43 species.

I’ve recently said goodbye to two of my favorite yard birds – the Black-headed Grosbeak and Western Tanager, which migrate here for the summer. They have departed for their winter feeding grounds.

This year, three pairs of grosbeaks and one pair of tanagers visited my feeders.

The grosbeaks have been coming since I put out my feeders, but the tanagers only showed up starting last year. I was so happy they came back this year!

The Western Tanager is a stunning bird, but the Black-headed Grosbeak is also handsome.

I usually hear the grosbeak before I see it – it sounds to me like a long-winded robin. Both the male and the female sing.

After paying daily visits to my feeder for several weeks, a male grosbeak brought in two fledglings.

I had never seen the young at my feeder before. They looked like little clowns, and were fun to watch, as they begged for the food from the adults with little wings quivering in anticipation.

They tried to figure out how feed on their own and learned pretty quickly. And then they were gone.

The Black-Headed Grosbeak chooses to breed in small or large forested habitat – either deciduous or mixed deciduous and coniferous like Big Gulch, which is adjacent to my home.

They feed on seeds and fruit, and at my feeder they eat sunflower seeds and suet.

The grosbeaks are now on their way to Mexico, where they will spend the winter. This grosbeak is one of the only birds that feed on Monarch butterflies, an insect usually toxic to birds.

I was not sure last year if the Western Tanager actually bred in Big Gulch, but this year I had confirmation, when not long ago I saw the whole family – male, female and two young. That was an exciting day!

The Western Tanager summer breeding habitat is coniferous or mixed coniferous/deciduous forest.

The main diet is insects and fruit, but at my feeder the male loved the suet and came every morning to feed.

Maybe next season, I will try to figure out a way to provide fruit at my feeder that is not also available to gray squirrels – always a problem.

The tanager family is on their way to central Mexico and Costa Rica, where they will spend the winter in highland forests. Not a terribly long journey, but one full of perils – storms, hawks, inhospitable habitats, tower cables, loss of stopover habitat.

Next spring, I will be waiting with great anticipation for the return of these spectacular birds.

Janet Carroll is a member of the Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project. After two years of getting landowners to certify their yards as wildlife habitat and conducting educational activities, Mukilteo has been certified as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat.

The group continues their commitment to wildlife by creating and enhancing wildlife habitat in Mukilteo and connecting residents with nature. For more information on the project, go to www.mukilteowildlife.org, contact the group at mukilteowildlife@gmail.com or 425-514-5979.

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