Dear Dot: Can I assist migrating birds?

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Dear Dot, 

I’ve been enjoying the birds that are making their way south. Is there anything I can do to help make their trip better?

Elle G., Vineyard Haven

Dear Elle,

Though the Vineyard tends to miss a lot of the spring migrators, fall is a wonderful time to give warblers, sparrows, flycatchers, virios and others an assist as young ones tend to follow the coast south, says the birdly named Matt Pelikan, an Oak Bluffs-based naturalist whom many of you know as the “Wild Side” columnist for The MV Times. And these guys can use our help! “The nature of migration is really intensive,” says Pelikan. “When birds are migrating, they’re running marathons.”

Metaphorically, of course. Their little legs couldn’t possibly run 26 miles let alone the up to 600 miles the American Bird Conservancy says migrating birds travel daily at approximately the same speed as a car on the highway. 

But, like any marathoner, they need water. Lots of it, says Pelikan, who urges us to put out a dish of water on the railing of our deck if we don’t have a bird bath. And if we do have a bird bath, we must ensure that it’s kept clean, with fresh water. 

But they also need fuel, says Pelikan, because migrating is so energy-intensive. “A lot of the migrants that come through here are much more insect eaters than seed eaters,” he says. That’s important during migration because insects are higher in fat, which these birds need. There isn’t much we can do to ensure a steady supply of insects though we could put out a tray of mealworms, he says, which you can get at SBS in Vineyard Haven. A longer term solution, says Pelikan, is to create a bird-friendly yard that supports insect populations. What that means, he says, is getting away from a closely mowed lawn, having as many native plants as possible (Pelikan recommends blueberry, goldenrods, native asters, even sunflowers and coreopsis. Birds love beach plums and will take a big chunk out of each before moving on to the next, he laughs). Let your plants grow tall then let them go to seed. For those neatniks among us, perhaps even just a section of your yard could be left a bit more wild looking. If you act fast, you can get native Vineyard plants via Polly Arboretum’s online sale before October 31, 2021. You can also get in touch with Pelikan’s employer Biodiversity Works, which will help you create a bird-friendly yard. (info@biodiversityworks.com)

For birds who overwinter, your birdhouse can provide a warm place to snuggle up but ensure that you’ve cleaned it out so that the new tenants aren’t exposed to parasites.

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