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NATUREWATCH

No, birdfeeders do not prevent songbirds from migrating south.

  • 3 min to read
Downy Woodpecker at suet cake.JPG

A downy woodpecker eats from a suet cake. 

Q: I have not seen this question over the past couple years that I have followed your newspaper column. Does feeding songbirds slow down or even stop their migration south in the fall?

— Phil, Sheffield

A: I must have answered this question in the past, and if I have the answer has not changed. NO! Bird feeders do not prevent migration, and if anything, it might help migrants that discover a feeder along the way by providing a ready supply of extra calories necessary to continue their trip.

I expect the chipping sparrows that have nested in our yard and show up in our garage if I don’t have feed in the feeders, were here this morning and will probably be gone soon, as their departure as a species is usually mid-October. This isn’t a good example though as there are lingerers that are seen in the county in November, and not necessarily because of bird feeders.

Q: I have decided to plant milkweed seeds that I gathered this past season. I wonder when the best time to plant is, and any advice you can give will appreciate. I have planted butterfly attracting flowers for a few years now and want to go a little farther.

— Maureen, North Adams

A: For about three years I planted common milkweed in both the fall and early spring. The first two years, I had no results, the third year was an overwhelming success, with self-seeding to the point that by this past summer milkweed became something of a weed, providing a supply of both common milkweed and even more swamp milkweed to offer to anyone interested. Some tips: If you wish to plant seeds in the spring, store the seeds in refrigerator or in an outdoor shed, on a porch or elsewhere that mimics resting in the out of doors. (In the beginning, I planted in both fall and spring, so I cannot say which time is better.) Before storing or planting carefully remove the silk. When planting I loosened the soil. Placed the seed and barely covered with sifted soil, and equally carefully sprinkled with water for the first couple weeks (if spring).

Q: What birds will be attracted by suet. Either the cakes we see at various shops or the chunks the meat markets use to offer? I have been providing mixed seed and want to try something else too.

— Anna, Pittsfield

A: This list is as complete as I can recall, and not every species is seen every year. I have been using the cakes for several years now because they do not (to my knowledge) spoil during the summer. Our suet cakes, and I have tried different ones, attracted four species of woodpeckers, the red-bellied, downy, hairy (rarely), northern flicker (rarely) and pileated woodpecker, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch and red-breasted (rarely), starling, blue jay, and Carolina wren. Other birds that I have not had, but have seen on lists include American robin, eastern bluebird, orioles, red-wing blackbird, brown creeper, Northern cardinal and northern mockingbird.

READER COMMENT:

You may have already covered the topic of Asian jumping worms and I missed it, but if not, it is time to do so. These worms are a scourge that have now infected the Berkshires. They multiply extremely rapidly, deplete the topsoil and there is no remedy to date. People need to be on guard and take precautions to avoid spreading them even farther.

— Terry M., Stockbridge

NATUREWATCH RESPONSE:

I have not written about the Asian jumping (or crazy) worms in the past, as the backbone of this column relies on responses from readers for the most part, and this is the first to come across my computer screen.

The only time I encountered these invaders was about close to 15 years ago at Stevens Glen in Richmond (Berkshire Natural Resources Council). There were hundreds of them on a plot of very moist soil not much larger than 5 square yards. At the time I was not familiar with them and didn’t get any response from a couple sources that I felt would know.

I personally wondered upon seeing these large active earthworms how long have these been around in local gardens?

I invite NatureWatch readers to respond with location if they know of Asian (crazy) jumping earthworms, as well as general numbers and anything if any you may be doing to curtail the population.

One source, Olga Kostromytska, PhD., assistant professor and turf entomologist, UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, in a UMass Extension’s 2021 Invasive Insect Webinar Series, answered the question “How long (in years) have the Amynthas spp. Earthworms (jumping worms) been established in the U.S.?  Her answer: "Since the 1940s to 1950s, so approximately 60 to 70 years.”

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