The Birds that migrate in September and early October

By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPICS: The Birds that migrate in September and early October.

The Feeder Survey Begins in Two Weeks. Discussion of what it is, how you can help and Complete Instructions for you to follow.

This column is divided into two sections here
Section 1 contains a copy of the column as it appeared in the newspaper on the date above.
Section 2 contains additional information on the Feeder Survey that starts October 3, what it is is and how you can help me with this scientific project. Detailed instructions are provided for your participation.


BIRD COLUMN FOR September 19, 2004
By Benjamin P. BurttMIGRATION NEWS
Many birds that are just here during the summer have gone south already. They slip away and we do not notice. These include chimney swifts, nighthawks and hummingbirds.

During September, warblers are going through from their nesting grounds further north and we will not see them again until spring.

Migrating thrushes will be conspicuous in the coming weeks. The veery, which breeds here as well as to the north, left in mid-September. All the other thrushes, however, will now gradually pass through in numbers. Each individual will be here for a day or two and will be replaced by others as it moves southward a bit each day. Wood thrushes are next, but by mid-October all of them will have passed through our yards.

Also coming through from the north are the grey-cheeked thrush and the Swainson's thrush. They will be seen for about three more weeks.
The bluebird, hermit thrush and the robin continue their migration until mid-November.

As for flycatchers, all will be in gone in a few days except the phoebe. By the end of October it too will be gone.

Some birds feed on the ground during migration and stop off in our yards where we can easily see them. The dark-eyed juncos and the white-throated and white-crowned sparrows are for many of us the most exciting migrants in the fall season.

These species are just beginning to show up. Flocks in the back yard brighten the October days, but they will all be gone by the end of that month.


While most white throated sparrows and juncos go further south, a few remain in Central New York through the winter. Another sparrow that spends the winter here is the tree sparrow. It breeds farther north than does the white-throat or junco. It nests in the Arctic beyond the trees, but spends the winter in the Northern United States. It will be along in a few weeks.

CAPTION: Migrating Sparrows. The two most conspicuous sparrows that will be moving through are the white-throated sparrow, top, and the white-crowned sparrow, bottom, shown in this painting from Roger Tory Petersons "Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America." Both birds have stripes on the crown, an unstreaked breast as adults, but the white-crowned sparrow is a grayer bird. The white-crowned has a pink bill instead of a dark one and it lacks the white throat patch. The white-throated sparrow also has a yellow spot in front on the eye.(Courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Co. )


The October feeder survey starts two weeks from today on Sunday October 3 and continues through the following Saturday. I hope that you can help me with this.

This is a scientific project that I have been operating since 1959 that utilizes readers of this column who observe the birds in their yard and report the numbers and species to me. It is a lot of fun and if you haven't participated before, the following paragraphs describe what it is and how you can help out.

Your observations will help me find out what birds are visiting our yards and feeders throughout the winter. When the results are printed, you can compare the number and types of birds at your feeder with other feeders in the area. I will be able to compare this years results to earlier years.

Participation in this fun project is open to all readers of this column who live in Central and Upstate New York State. Here is how I define the limits of that area.

The northern boundary is the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario west to Rochester.

From there the boundary goes south to Elmira and Binghamton. From Binghamton the line goes north east along Interstate 88 to Albany and then north on Interstate 87 to the border with Canada.

Thus it includes all of the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes regions.
For those of you familiar with the reporting regions of the former Federation of NY State Bird clubs, it includes all of Regions 2 through 7 and part of 8 ( The Federation has a new name, The New York State Ornithological Association ).

History of this projectThis feeder survey was started in the winter of 1958-59, and data have been gathered every year since then. The idea was suggested by the late Dr. Francis Scheider. So this is the start of the 45th year of this project.

In 1970, a feeder survey was initiated in England. In 1976, one was started in Ontario, Canada, by the Long Point Observatory. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology began a survey for the whole United States in 1987.

This is what you do.
Starting on the first Sunday of the designated month and continuing through Saturday, when you have a few minutes, look out the window at the feeders in the yard, and record the number and species of all birds that you can see from the house at that moment. These birds can be at the feeder or anywhere in sight.

Those flying by can be counted if you are sure of the identification. You can record birds that you see when you are outside as long as you are looking from a point right near the house. Birds seen on hikes nearby are not to be included in the list.

To avoid counting the same bird more than once, write down the maximum number of a given species that you see at one time. This way, you know that there are at least that many birds visiting your yard.

Later that day or on another day during the week, check the yard again and write down the number of each species that is visible at one time during that period. Watch as often as you like and keep these lists until the end of the week. You don't have to watch every day, but any day Sunday through Saturday can be included.

Then, summarize your observations by preparing a single list for me that shows the name of each species seen and the largest number of birds of that species sighted at any one time during the week. For example, if you see a total of 42 house sparrows this week, but never more than nine at a time, nine is what you put on the list that you send in.

There may be more than nine house sparrows around your yard, but we are certain that there are at least nine.

We conduct a survey for a week starting the first Sunday of the month from October through May. Through these surveys we see how the population of different species changes throughout the winter. We can also pick out long-term changes in the population of some species over the years.

Preparing the list.
There are several things you can do to make the tabulation easier for me. First, it is a big help if each list has the birds in the same order. If you can, please use what is called "check-list" order. It is the order the birds are listed in your field guide and the order I use when I publish the list of birds seen on a survey.

The second way you can help is to put each species on a separate line with the number of birds first and followed by the name of the species.

Please write the total number of species at the top of your list.

Unusual birds. If you list a bird that is unusual in this part of the country or should not be here at the time of the survey, or closely resembles a species common in our area, please write a note describing the field marks you observed and how you made your decision.

Sending in the ReportsAt the end of the week, put your final list on a postcard or in a letter and send it to the address below. You can use EMAIL if you wish. If you do use Email, please give your name and address so I will know where your observations were made.

PLEASE send your report by Monday right after the survey so that I can get the tabulation done in time to write up the results by the following Saturday.

Send your feeder survey report to either of the following addressesBy Regular Mail: Ben Burtt, PO Box 4915, Stars Magazine, Syracuse, NY 13221.

By E-Mail: Send to Be sure to put "For Ben Burtt" in the Subject Line.
How you can read the Summary Report of the results.

About 3 weeks after a particular survey week ends, when the next survey starts, I will make available on this web site a detailed discussion of "The Feeder Survey Results" It will include the complete list of species, a discussion of all the trends and unusual birds reported, as well as the longest and shortest lists, etc. Click on COLUMNS and then the date of that column.

A brief discussion and summary of the observations is published in the newspaper on that same date, but there is not enough space there for all of the details that are in the summary of the survey on this web site.

Wind turbines and Birds

BIRD COLUMN FOR August 8, 2004

By Benjamin P. Burtt

Topic: Wind Turbines and Birds

Are these devices for generating electricity from the wind a danger to birds?

Provided below is a copy of all the material that appeared in the newspaper column on the date above, plus extra information for the interested reader who wishes to learn more about this subject.

Mr. Burtt: There are wind mills near Cazenovia, NY for making electricity. I've heard that they can somehow be harmful to birds? What can you tell me about this? J.G. Cazenovia

Dear J.G. The use of wind turbines to make electricity is attractive because it does not contaminate the air. Each tower has a three blade propeller that is turned by the wind. However, some people worry that many birds will be killed by flying into the moving blades.

This concern arose when it was reported that a number of hawks and eagles were killed at the Altamont Pass area east of San Francisco after wind turbines were first put there 20 years ago.

Bird Collisions with human-made structures.

This question brings up the whole subject of the structures we build and that birds are killed by flying into them each year.

Birds collide with our cars and trucks, with buildings and with the windows in them. Powerlines take their toll. Radio and television antenna towers and cell-phone towers on the tops of hills or ridges, cause fatalities in bad weather at night when birds are forced to fly nearer the ground during migration. They run into the towers or the guy-wires supporting them.

Dead birds have been counted and estimates have been made of the number of fatalities at these different structures per year. The estimates vary because scientists use different assumptions in making their calculations. In each case below, I have chosen the estimate that is half way between the lowest and the highest published estimate.

For example, birds die when they collide with a building, a house or its windows. About 4 die each year per building. I know that in a year, about 20 birds hit my big picture window as they mistake the reflection for part of the scenery. Most are able to fly away, but 4 or 5 die. Thus my house is about average.

Counting all the buildings and houses in the United States, about 400 million birds are killed each year by hitting buildings and windows. Buildings kill more birds than other structures.

Collisions with powerlines cause about 85 million deaths. This is about 175 per mile of wire.

Cars, trucks and buses kill about 70 million birds per year. That is a lot of birds, but taking into account the number of cars, on the average, it means that my car kills a bird every other year.

The TV and radio towers cause the death of about 20 million birds per year. Each tower kills about 300 per year. This happens most often when birds are migrating at night and bad weather and clouds force the birds to fly nearer the earth. A TV or radio tower mounted on a high point is thus a serious hazard and the guy wires take their toll. Steadily burning lights on the towers seem to attract the birds as well.

Wind turbines kill about 2 to 4 birds per tower per year depending on where the tower is placed and how it is constructed. About 45,000 birds are killed each year at turbines about the country. This knowledge comes from careful carcass counts at existing wind plants.

CAPTION: These modern turbines to produce electricity from the wind are in Wyoming. There are some 15,000 others around the U.S. including some in New York State. Note the size in comparison to the old fashioned windmill on the left.

The structure of the wind turbine and the tower

Those early turbines rotated so rapidly that the short, moving blades were almost invisible to birds.

The turbines then were supported by a lattice of supports and braces much like you see on the old fashioned windmill on the left in the photograph. Birds that perched there may have been killed as they tried to fly away through the whirling blades.
(Photo Courtesy of David P. Young Jr., West, Inc.)

At Altamount mentioned above, on the average one or two birds were killed per year at each tower, but with 6000 towers clustered there, the kill was impressive.

The improved models

The turbines near Cazenovia are modern ones like the white ones in the picture and are supported by a single tower with no place for birds to perch. The blades turn more slowly on these newer models and thus are visible as they turn. Nevertheless the tip of the blade is still moving fast enough to kill a bird.

The towers east of Cazenovia are 216 feet high and each of the blades is 108 feet long. The blades turn at about 20 revolutions per minute.

The location

Careful attention to the environment in the area of the wind turbines must be taken into account. The place chosen must have wind of course, but it should not be where there is a concentration of birds. The early wind turbine plants were located without attention to the use of the area by birds.

It turned out that there were lots of birds-of-prey in the area of the Altamount power plant in California that was mentioned above. Many rodents lived there and this brought the birds of prey in.

The modern turbines are probably less dangerous to birds, but much depends on where they are put. During migration, birds generally fly well above the towers if they are located on flat land. In the daylight, low flying birds are observed to swerve as they approach the tower.

However, if the towers are put on high ridges birds may hit them while migrating at night. An estimated 20 million birds are killed every year by collisions with TV and radio towers placed in such spots. Turbines located there would stick well up into the sky too.

At night, in bad weather, the clouds are sometimes very low. Since birds fly below this cloud ceiling, they may be forced to fly so low that they will run into any tall tower on the ridge.
Shown in the picture here is part of a line of turbines that runs along the top of a ridge of the Alllegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania. Often, as here, some of the forest along the top of the ridge is removed during construction. Cutting the forest for 10 miles along the ridge does destroy and fragment considerable nesting habitat for birds.

To prevent collisions with aircraft, the towers must have lights. If there are steady lights that are on all night or if the area around the base of the tower is illuminated, when birds are forced to fly low, they encounter the lights and are often confused. They circle the lights and hit the tower or its guy wires.

Photo Courtesy of D.D. Boone, Bowie, MD

Blinking red or white strobe lights do not cause a problem and all turbine towers now use them, but some older TV towers have steady white lights.

How dangerous are turbine towers?To answer this question for a particular location, a careful, scientific study must be made. This must be done nowadays in order to get a permit. The developer must engage the services of a company that has the knowledge and experience to do the scientific experiments required.

There are a number of companies in the environmental studies business. They are also hired by government agencies such as a state conservation department, the Fish and Wildlife Service, or a town to study the project and provide a report on the impact the project will have on the environment.

As for wind turbines and birds, the occurrence of birds at the site must be studied. Radar can be used during migration to determine the number of birds moving, their speed, the direction as well as the altitude at which they fly. Many birds migrate at night and radar is of particular use then.

It is useful to determine how many birds fly low enough to be at risk for colliding with a tower or the blades. In one study by radar of a prospective site in West Virginia. some 1,800,000 birds flew over the 10 mile stretch of the ridge of mountains during the fall migration of 2003.

The radar detected birds from the ridge top up to nearly a mile above it ( 4922 feet). The critical region was from the ridge up to a point just above the top of the prospective turbine blades. In that lower region of higher risk, 300,000 birds were observed during the fall migration.

Of those, about 500 would have been killed. This conclusion was based on carcass counts at another ridge line wind plant where 2.37 birds were killed per turbine during the fall season.

These carcass counts are carefully done. Since predators may pick up a carcass before it is counted, the investigator must plant some dead birds to see how fast they are cleaned up. A test must also be run to see how well the planted carcasses are found by those making the survey. The 2.37 birds per turbine came from such a study.

Studies of this type have been made all over the country and they lead to the figure of about 2 birds being killed per turbine per year in the west. Where turbines are located on the Appalachian ridges in the east, the number varies from 2 up to 4 per turbine per year. I have found no studies that show higher numbers killed anywhere in the United States.

These studies are complicated and are done in a scientific manner and I have read such reports and am impressed with how thorough they are. Well educated biologists and other scientists make up the personnel of the firms doing the study.

Some people express the opinion that the investigation may be biased in favor of the developer. If that happens just once, the environmental consultant company is out of business. The report is used by the developer and by the agency that has to approve the project. Money to pay for the project often comes from both sources.

Summary of bird loss due to collisionsThe figures here are the estimates of the number of birds killed per year by colliding with each of the various human structures discussed above.

400,000,000 by collisions with buildings and windows
85,000,000 by collisions with power lines.
70,000,000 by collisions with vehicles
20,000,000 by collisions with TV and radio towers
45,000 by collisions with the 15,000 wind turbines

If we eventually had a million turbines, they would account for only 1.5% of all the casualties that birds now undergo to live with we humans.

Just for comparison, the Audubon Society estimates that about
100,000,00 birds are killed by house cats each year.

Producing ElectricityWe make most of our electricity by burning coal or oil. This produces acid rain that damages our forests, kills fish in the lakes down wind and ultimately makes it impossible for some birds to feed in our lakes and streams.

The carbon dioxide and other gases from the furnaces and from our vehicles traps the heat of the sun and is slowly raising the temperature of the earth. ( This can change the climate and it is called the "greenhouse" effect.)

Electricity from wind turbines produces no toxic or harmful materials, but some birds and bats are killed by colliding with the towers.

So how do we weigh the benefits of having electricity with the harm its production causes to the environment? We do have to weigh the benefits and the risks. Becoming informed is the only way we can each reach an intelligent decision. I hope that this discussion has been of help to you.

The Danger to Birds Caused by the Reflections


By Benjamin P. Burtt

TOPIC: The dangers to birds caused by the reflections from glass windows.
Some are killed by colliding at high speed with the glass while others spend fruitless hours attacking their own reflection visible in a window near their nest.
One Billion Birds are Killed each Year when they Collide with Windows in the United States.


This column is divided into two sections here

Section 1 contains a copy of the column as it appeared in the newspaper on the date above.

Section 2 contains additional information for the reader who is interested in learning more about the subject of this column


The fall migration has startedSparrows that nested further north will pass through during September and October. Even now the white-throated sparrow is migrating.

Question: Mr. Burtt: Recently, a bird hit my window and died. Is there some way to prevent this? M.S. Liverpool, NY.

Dear M.S.: This happens to a lot of birds as they fly away from a feeder towards the reflection of the sky or the reflection of the plants nearby.

In addition during the next two months, migrating birds will also collide with windows on homes that are situated on a migration route. They collide with the glass on buildings in our big cities. Birds do not recognize glass as a solid object.

Professor Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College has studied bird collisions with windows in commercial buildings and homes. It is a very serious environmental problem and windows kill more birds than any other thing that humans do except our destruction of their habitat.

A conservative estimate indicates that almost a 1 billion birds are killed by glass each year in the U.S. This is about 10 birds per building. Before the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, about 32 birds were found dead there per year by volunteers from the NYC Audubon Society. This is only a fraction of the casualties for many carcasses probably were not found, or were cleaned up by maintenance. Some undoubtedly were eaten by gulls or rats.

CAPTION: Thousands of migrating birds are killed by colliding with windows in the buildings of New York City. The white-throated sparrow is the most frequent victim found in downtown Manhatten. The arrows in this painting from Peterson's "Birds of Eastern and Central North America" call attention to important field marks for identification, the white throat and the white stripes on the crown. ( Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Co.)

A number of things have been tried in an effort to decrease the reflection or to frighten the birds away.

There is a new simple method that I think we should try at our homes. It was invented by Stiles Thomas of New Jersey.

One or more lengths of monofilament fishing line are fastened above the window and extend to the bottom. Attach a six to seven inch white or colored feather about every 7 inches. Keep the line loose so the feathers can blow back and forth across the window. I am not sure why it frightens birds, but would you give it a try and let me know whether it works? You can get feathers at a craft shop or perhaps from a chicken or turkey farm.

Many other methods are worth trying and are discussed in Section 2 that follows just below.


A. Bird Collisions with windows and additional methods for preventing these accidents.

B. The problem of birds attacking their own reflection that they see in a window near where they are nesting.

One of the hazards of any window is that it reflects the garden and sky and birds in flight mistake the reflection as part of the scenery and fly headlong into the window.

Professor Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College was mentioned above. Here is more of what he discovered over a 20 year period as he studied the accidents that befall birds that collide with windows. From his studies he came to the conclusion that each year, between 100 million birds and 900 million birds are killed by colliding with windows in homes and buildings, particularly with tall ones in the cities. This is where I obtained the estimate of the annual window caused deaths of nearly a billion birds.

Often at our homes, a bird that has been at a feeder will leave it and crash into a window as it heads towards the reflection of the open sky. Klem has shown that the number of fatalities increases as the feeder is placed further from the window glass. There were no fatalities if the feeder was located 3 feet or less from the window. However, birds that hit the window after leaving a more distant feeder were much more likely to die.

If the feeder was 15 feet or more from the glass, over half of the collisions were instantly fatal. So you can save the lives of some birds by having your feeder close to the window. You can also better see the birds when they are close to you!

Home owners often report that a particular window kills many, many birds each year. Such a window usually faces north or south in an open area where migrating birds are already moving at high speeds.

Our large window faces the area where the birds feed. The house and window form the southern boundary of a clearing in the trees and shrubs.

Our window is not protected by an overhanging roof, so the room inside is bright and well illuminated. This reduces the intensity of the reflection. Windows that are underneath the shelter of a roof generally kill more birds since the reflection is more obvious when the room behind the window is dark.

If you are building a house with large windows facing the garden, you can have the glass tilted downward, that is have the glass lean outward from the top. Sometimes a building will have large windows designed this way. A bird flying towards the window does not see a reflection of the sky and garden, but only the image of the ground below the window and will veer away.

Attacking the window.

Here is another question about birds and windows.
Question: Dear Mr. Burtt: A cardinal was flying up against my window last spring for hours at a time. Is there some way to stop this if it happens again? J.B., Hastings, NY

Dear J.B.:This question is also related to the fact that birds do not understand the nature of reflections they see in a nearby window. The cardinal was attacking the image that it saw of itself that was reflected by the glass. It instinctively tries to drive away any other cardinal that comes near to where it plans to nest. To the annoyance of the homeowner, this thumping against the glass may begin as early as sunrise. The bird often carries on this activity until it is almost exhausted.

Each bird tries to keep the area around its nest clear of birds of the same kind. This area, called the territory, varies in size with different species. With robins for example, it may be from 70 by 70 feet up to an area 100 feet on a side.

If a male bird of the same species enters into that territory, the resident threatens the intruder. Sometimes there is physical contact, but more often a threatening rush will send the visitor flying.

Having a territory to itself is advantageous to the resident. It reduces interference by others, it may insure a better food supply, it spreads birds out and reduces losses due to predation and disease.

If a window happens to be within the territory and the bird sees its own reflection in that window, an attempt will be made to drive out the apparent intruder. Since the reflection does not go away, the local bird fights its image for one fruitless hour after another.

Birds have even fluttered at their image in the shiny hubcap of a car parked in the territory. Sometimes the outside rear view mirror gets the birds attention.


If a bird fights its image, it will exhaust itself in this hopeless task. The useless hours spent in fighting the reflection very often cause the nest to fail. The nest may not be properly constructed or the bird will fail to keep the eggs warm because it spent so much time fighting the intruder.

To stop this activity, something must be installed to frighten the bird away or somehow the reflection must be reduced.

Frightening the bird.

It has been recommended that a silhouette of a hawk be placed on the outside of the window. It is hoped that this will frighten the bird and cause it to veer away from the "hawk" before it gets close to the window.

Some people say that it has no effect what so ever while others think that it has decreased the number of hits on the window. I suspect that any piece of cardboard or paper fastened to the outside of the glass will break up the reflection enough to be helpful.

As indicated above in Section 1, there is a new method using feathers that you should try. It was first described in Bird Watchers Digest a few years ago. It involves the use of feathers dangling outside the window on one or more strands of monofilament fishing line. The details were given above.

Some people have tied the shafts of several feathers together loosely so that there is a cluster of feathers together that stick out in all directions.

Why does this frighten birds? The most likely suggestion is that loose feathers or some blowing about suggest that a bird has been killed by a predator and perhaps birds instinctively stay away from an area where there are loose feathers and possible danger.

Bill Thompson III, the editor of Bird Watchers Digest and his wife Julie have tested this method at their rural home in Ohio that has many reflecting windows. Now the Bird Watchers Digest store on the web is selling these "Feather Guards" ready made. Their unit has a plastic suction cup on each end of the fishing line to hold the string of feathers loosely in front of the glass.

Check their web site at If you wish to order one, click on "Order Now"( it works better than the"Buy Now" button.) If you want to sell some in your store, click on "Wholesale Information".

Some Stores that specialize in items for attracting birds already have them in stock. Ask around.

I hope that you will try this feathers idea and let me know how it works.

Reducing the Reflection

A white material placed against the glass on the inside usually will reduce the reflection enough to stop the attacks. Avoid pulling a dark colored drape across for this will enhance the reflection. Similarly, a darkened room with a clear glass window makes the reflection more pronounced.

One of simplest things to do is to temporarily tape up pieces of newspapers on the inside of the window. Another treatment is to spread a coating of white window cleaner on the inside of the glass. This could be in large blotches so that your own view out the window is not completely obstructed.

At the present time efforts are being made to manufacture a window glass that will appear to be frosted when viewed from the outside and yet appear transparent like normal glass from the inside.

If nothing else works for either the "attacks" against the window or to prevent high speed collisions, you may need to cover the outside of the window with a thin netting which decreases the reflection, without seriously interfering with the view out the window.