Migrating birds on the move

This week’s cold snap (my yard in Decatur was covered with an early morning frost) should be the needed kick to get Georgia’s lingering migratory songbirds finally on their way to winter grounds in tropical climes.

Many of our neotropical migrants seem to be a little late moving out this year. A lot of ruby-throated hummingbirds, for instance, appear to be slow in departing for their winter homes in Mexico.

Ted Theus of Columbus reported on the Georgia birders’ chat line early in the week that he still had six to seven ruby-throats visiting his feeders, but, after a chilly night, most of them appeared to be heading out. “They will be missed, but their absence only makes the heart grow fonder for the excitement of that first spring appearance,” he said.

While our neotropical songbirds are headed out, our winter birds are moving in. They are the birds that nest up north during the summer and migrate to Georgia and other Southern states in the fall and stay here for the cold months. Reported arriving this week were yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Georgia’s only migratory woodpecker species), yellow-rumped warblers, golden-crowned and ruby-crowned kinglets (Georgia’s smallest birds other than the ruby-throated hummingbird), hermit thrushes and several sparrow species.

Coming in any day now will be flocks of cedar waxwings, which will feast on hollies and other winter berries.

And while our summer-nesting ruby-throated hummingbirds will be ensconced in Mexico for the winter, chances are good that two or three other hummingbird species will visit Georgia. That’s especially true of the rufous hummingbird, which has been coming to Georgia in good numbers for the past several winters. If you leave a full hummingbird feeder up all winter, you have a good chance of hosting one of these little birds.

Songbirds are not the only birds making their way to Georgia for the winter. The common loon, whose quavering wail is a common sound on northern lakes, will spend the winter here. So will more than 15 duck species. One of the best places to see an array of wild ducks is the ponds at the E.L. Huie water treatment facility in Clayton County. Carol Lambert, director of the facility’s Newman Wetlands Center, reports that blue-winged and green-winged teals, northern shovelers, gadwalls and ring-necked ducks already have arrived at the Huie ponds.

Also coming in now for the winter is a northern-nesting raptor, the northern harrier, which routinely flies close to the ground in search of mice and other prey. In addition, peregrine falcons are making their way to Georgia’s coast, where their favorite prey will be wintering shorebirds, including plovers, sanderlings, yellowlegs, dowitchers and others.

In the sky: The moon will be first quarter on Sunday, in the south at sunset, and setting around midnight, says David Dundee, an astronomer with the Tellus Northwest Georgia Science Museum. Mars rises out of the east just before midnight. Jupiter is high in the south at sunset and sets in the west about midnight, and it will appear close to the moon on Monday night. Saturn is very low in the east just before sunrise. Mercury and Venus are too close to the sun for easy observation.