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October Migration Musings

On these warm, sunny days of October, we should keep an eye out for flocks of birds as they swoop and swirl their way to winter feeding grounds.

According to Miyoko Chu in "Songbird Journeys", many birds fly at night, and rest and feed during the day to fuel their night flights.  One recent afternoon, the trees were full of birds whose singing was loud and lively enough to beat the band.  They jumped from branch to branch and glided from tree to tree, as if excited about their journey to a new destination.  A pair of binoculars revealed numerous good-sized birds with dark brown backs, lighter breasts splotched with dark brown painterly strokes, and straight bills. What are these birds with the pretty song? 

About the same time, a woodpecker was determinedly beating a hole in a tree somewhere.  Who was it who said they must have rubber for brains?  (We could look it up, come to think of it.)  Then, the most striking multi-syllabic call insisted to the world, "This is my territory!"  Did that call come from a woodpecker or maybe a competitor?

Answers to both these questions came from Birds of Noth America Online, a rich source of information available from the Library's website (look under Electronic Resources).

The chatty brown birds turned out to be wood thrush, evidenced by the numerous clear photographs as well as the audio clips of their songs.  Wood thrush are common throughout the eastern United States and migrate to Florida and Latin America for the winter.

The territorial bird call did, indeed, come from a woodpecker, a pileated woodpecker, no less, which the audio clips definitively determined.  We would bet the price of a bag of birdseed that this same call was heard during Ken Burns' magnificent film series on The National Parks, aired last week on PBS. (The DVD will be available in our collection soon.) 

Birds of North America Online, a product of Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, allows you to identify birds by images or calls.  Next time you see or hear an unfamiliar bird, look for it on BNAO.

And read Miyoko Chu's account of the amazing courage and endurance of creatures that weigh a couple of ounces at most, as they are battered by wind and rain, blinded by bright lights, and blown into buildings and the sea, and marvel at the miracle of their dangerous journeys.

As frosty weather approaches, natural sources of food for birds diminish.  They need fat to survive the winter.  Try this recipe from our bicentennial cookbook, "Tasty Tazewell Traditions: 200 Years of Cooking and History in Tazewell County, Virginia".

In a large pot, melt 2 cups of peanut butter and 2 cups of shortening.  Stir in 2 cups of flour and 6-8 cups of cornmeal.  Line a 9 x 13 pan with waxed paper and pour the peanut butter mixture in.  Smooth it out evenly.  Let it sit several hours or overnight.  Grasp the ends of the wax paper and remove the mixture to a cutting board.  Cut into 6 rectangles.  Put one into a suet hanger to feed the birds now.  Wrap the remaining pieces in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for later.  The birds will flock to your feeder for this ambrosia.  You can enrich the mixture by adding raisins, chopped peanuts, oats, and/or cereal.

Think about planting sunflowers next spring to supplement the bird seed supply.  Chickadees, as well as other birds, love to pull seeds from the dried flower heads.  Wouldn't Tazewell County look beautiful with swaths of sunflowers east to west, north to south?

For more about birds, their fragile habitats, and ways to help them survive, visit your library at, or call 988-2541.

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