Migrating birds coming in and going out

A lot of arrivals and departures are taking place in the bird world right now. Early to mid-October is peak time for fall migration, when countless numbers of songbirds, raptors and other birds that nested in Georgia during spring and summer are heading south for the winter.

At the same time, several species that nested exclusively up north — outside of Georgia — are coming in to spend the winter in the state. Come spring, they’ll head north again at about the same time that our spring and summer nesters are returning from their winter grounds in Central and South America.

The arriving “winter birds” are why you’ll hear birders right now use the acronym FOTS, or “first of the season.” When they spy a migrating bird for the first time in spring or fall, they describe it as FOTS.

Georgia birders already are reporting several winter bird arrivals, including:

— Ruby-crowned kinglet, one of our tiniest birds. In winter, it flits among tree branches, frequently hovering and energetically flicking its wings, presumably to startle insects. Its close cousin, the golden-crowned kinglet, will arrive any day now. Next to the ruby-throated hummingbird, now ensconced in winter grounds in Central America, the golden-crowned kinglet is Georgia’s smallest bird.

— Peregrine falcon. Though a pair of peregrines nest in an Atlanta skyscraper each spring,the falcons are present in large numbers in Georgia only during winter, and mostly on the coast. Ornithologist Tim Keyes said the falcons have hit the coast “in force” during the past few weeks. Other winter-only raptors arriving in Georgia now include American kestrels and merlins.

— Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Georgia’s only migratory woodpecker. It spends the winter here drilling “sap wells” into hardwoods to lap up the sap and eat insects attracted to the juice.

— Blue-winged teal, usually the first of more than 20 over-wintering duck species to arrive in Georgia in early fall.

Coming in any day now, if not already here, are Georgia’s other winter birds: white-throated sparrows, white-crowned sparrows and several other sparrow species; cedar waxwings; dark-eyed juncos; yellow-rumped warblers; orange-crowned warblers; hermit thrushes; winter wrens and brown creepers.

IN THE SKY: The moon will be full on Oct. 18, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. October's full moon is known as the "Hunter's Moon" because its moonlight aided hunters stalking wild game. Mercury and Saturn are very low in the southwest at dusk and set soon afterward. Venus is in the west at dusk and sets about two hours later. Mars rises out of the east three hours before dawn. Jupiter rises out of the east around midnight.