Carole Buie Jackson wants people to know that more than 300 species of birds can be found in the Mecklenburg County region. They either live here full time, part time, or use the region as a migratory highway.
With fall approaching, now is the time to prepare for the many birds that will pass through on their way to warmer climates or spend winter here. Buie Jackson, a Matthews resident, owns Birdhouse on the Greenway and is a board member of the National Wildlife Federation. Birdhouse on the Greenway, in Piper Glen, is a nature and bird supply store.
“Cat birds and most hummingbirds will leave, but we will be seeing lots of warblers as the weather turns colder -- pine warblers, yellow rumped warblers, ruby crowned kinglets and more,” Buie Jackson said. “They will go north in the spring, but we get to enjoy them in the wintertime.”
Buie Jackson said, as a result of all the bird transitions, it’s more important than ever to keep feeders clean to prevent the spread of disease from flock to flock. She recommends disassembling the feeders and soaking the pieces in a five-gallon bucket of water mixed with one cup of vinegar. Soak for an hour or so and brush each piece, rinse it well, and lay in the sun to dry.
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“Sun is a great disinfectant,” she said.
Tim Gestwicki, CEO of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, said migratory birds require stopover places to survive.
“One of the great things about fall is that we get the migratory birds. But they are super dependent on stopovers,” Gestwicki said. “They fly all night long so during the day they need a safe place to rest that provides water and good cover, and they need a good food supply. In addition to feeders they need native trees and shrubs so they can eat the berries and fruit.”
Matthews resident Debbie Foster, a certified habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation, said fall is the perfect time to consider adding native plants to your landscape.
“Fall is a great time for planting, so pick native perennials, shrubs and trees that offer benefits to wildlife. Those benefits could be food, cover and places to raise young. Native plants make a huge impact on our wildlife,” Foster said.
“And practice sustainable gardening. Pick the most environmentally-friendly method for dealing with weeds and pests. Reduce or eliminate your use of chemicals, and use them sparingly and wisely. For example, don’t spray on a windy day when you can’t control where chemicals end up.”
Buie Jackson said the less-is-better idea applies to raking leaves as well.
“We’re too neat. Leaf litter is very important for hibernation of insects, and butterfly larvae that overwinter there and emerge as butterflies in the spring. Undisturbed areas are also important for lizards, salamanders, box turtles and frogs,” Buie Jackson said.
“If you can’t stand the thought of leaving leaves on your lawn, then rake them into a natural area. And don’t feel like you have to deadhead all your flowers. Leave the seed pods and let the birds eat them.”
And don’t take the hummingbird feeders in just yet. It’s an old wives tale that keeping feeders out will confuse the hummers and keep them from migrating south. Laurie Horne, owner of Backyard Birds, said hummingbirds are especially active now and need all the nutrients they can get. She said it’s good rule of thumb to leave the feeders up and filled until November, or at least two week after you’ve seen the last hummingbird.
Gestwicki said a lucky few could even get a Rufus hummingbird, a visitor from the north that may stay and eat all winter long.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips to help the birds
▪ Keep feeders clean to prevent the spread of diseases.
▪ Clean out nesting boxes. Multiple birds will use them for shelter and protection when the weather turns cold.
▪ Provide clean, fresh water in birdbaths and install a heater when the weather turns cold. Animals must stay hydrated, and matted fur and feathers prevent them from regulating their body temperature.
▪ Install native plants and shrubs to provide food and shelter.
▪ Allow fallen leaves to remain undisturbed or rake into natural areas to provide a habitat for insects and butterfly larvae.
▪ Don’t deadhead flowers or cut down dried leaves and stalks – birds will eat the seed pods and dead stalks and foliage will provide shelter for the birds and other small animals.