While there are many species of birds that live in Florida’s Adventure Coast all year around, September is the best month to look for songbirds that are migrating in the fall. These birds have spent the summer nesting and raising their chicks in the northern states and Canada, and are now passing through the county as they fly to their wintering grounds in southern Florida, Mexico, Central America, or even South America.
In the springtime these songbirds are in a hurry to reach their northern breeding grounds to claim the best sites for their nests, so they don’t remain long as they fly through Florida's Adventure Coast. But in the fall, with their breeding responsibilities completed, the birds take a more leisurely pace and may linger at one site for several days if there is a good food source.
Many species of male songbirds have bright, flashy colors, while the females’ colors are more subdued, probably because they need to be camouflaged as they sit on a nest. And many chicks look much like their mother in their first year, so a birding field guide is very useful in sorting out the species.
A group of very colorful small birds with small bills called warblers are active insect eaters. Various species of warblers feed in different levels of vegetation. Some species will flit around gleaning insects from high in a live oak tree while others feed lower in a shrub, and still others search for food in the leaf litter on the ground.
Other migrants are the flycatchers and kingbirds. These birds will sit patiently on a branch until they see a flying insect, and then will sally out and grab it, often returning to the same perch.
Other birds such as grosbeaks and tanagers supplement their insect diet by eating fruit and seeds. They will sometimes visit backyard bird feeders for a bite of black oil sunflower seeds or a suet mix.
While thrushes are usually secretive birds, some will perch on a native plant called Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) and snack on the purple berries through the day.
This is only a small sampling of the many birds that might be seen during fall migration. Since these songbirds opportunistically feed wherever they happen to find something they like, during fall migration they might be found anywhere in the county. Some may be found at known birding “hotspots” such as Weekiwachee Preserve, McKethan Lake, or Chinsegut Conservation Center, while others may be seen in local neighborhoods and backyards.
Grab a pair of binoculars and watch for colorful movement wherever you are!
Bev Hansen has been birding in Hernando County for thirty years. She and her husband Al are volunteers for Florida Forest Service, where they have spent sixteen years monitoring the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker in the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest. She is a member of the Hernando Audubon Society.