White-crowned sparrows will be showing up at backyard bird feeders during the month of September. (Jay’s Bird Barn/Courtesy)

September ushers in a lot of changes in backyard bird activity. Many of ‘our’ nectar-and insect-dependent bird species migrate early. This is true of the three oriole species found in the Arizona Central Highlands. Bullock’s, Scott’s and hooded orioles have already moved south, and will soon be followed by our hummingbirds.

Other insect-eating varieties of birds are also moving south right now, such as tanagers, warblers and vireos. The best way to observe these species is to get outside and walk around your property.  These birds will not be at your seed feeders — they will be in the foliage of trees and shrubs in your yard, gleaning for insects. 

Interestingly, at our elevation and latitude, we also lose some of ‘our’ seed-eaters, like the black-headed grosbeaks. However, we actually gain far more seed-eaters in fall and winter compared to those we lose. Many seed-eating varieties of bird species spend their summers north of Arizona — in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and on up into Canada.

When it is time for these seed-eaters to move south, many of them come to Arizona to winter (snow birds!)  We are just weeks away from white-crowned sparrows and dark-eyed juncos showing up.  When they arrive, you will notice that the consumption of millet at your feeders will increase. 

Of course, many of the bird species found in the Arizona Central Highlands are non-migratory. Rather, they live here year-round and are regular visitors to backyard bird feeders. This group of permanent residents includes scrub-jays, quail, doves, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, house finches and many, many more.

Changes in both the variety of birds and the number of birds you are seeing in your yard is usually somewhat gradual during migration. However, migration activity at our local lakes can be very dramatic — especially at Watson and Willow lakes. Over the next several weeks, thousands of birds will use the lakes as a ‘rest-stop’ to feed and refuel.

Last week, I was at the south shore of Willow Lake, and there were well over 100 white-faced ibis, along with numbers of other shorebirds including sandpipers, dowitchers and stilts. They were enjoying the food sources at the lake to fuel the next leg of their southward journey. 

This is also the time of year when gulls, terns and pelicans stop briefly at the lakes before continuing on. In September and October, large numbers of ducks and grebes will visit our lakes, and thousands of them will stay here until next spring. 

As a reminder, the month of September is the submission period for our 12th annual Wild Bird Photography Contest. If you have questions, come by the store to pick up a flyer or go online at www.jaysbirdbarn.com, for more information. The deadline to submit pictures is Sept. 30. While we will be having our annual photo contest, we will not be having the annual fall seed sale in October, due to rising seed prices. The commodities market has been very volatile this year, and our costs on raw ingredients have increased dramatically, making it impractical to have a seed sale. Since the beginning of the year, our cost on black-oil sunflower seed has gone up over 30%, while nyjer has gone up over 19% and millet has gone up over 24%!    

We have also made the decision that we will not be hosting our annual anniversary celebration at the end of October. This event normally brings hundreds of people into our store. Due to COVID-19 concerns, it is not practical to host the anniversary celebration as it would be impossible to practice safe social distancing. Thank you for your understanding.

Until next week, Happy Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.