Who stays, who goes?

In a symbolic shift from warmth to chill, the leaves in our gardens will turn a shade redder, preparing for the crisp brown of later months, when they fall from our trees, withering and fading away. During this same time, many of our summer visitors will pack up and leave, heading off for warmer environments in the south. But all is not lost, as we gain new visitors from even colder climates.

The most famed migratory bird, the swift, takes up the challenge and travels south, far away from the UK, and across many of Africa’s Western countries; swifts even migrate east, as far as northern China. Imagine the journey, a continuous flight over liberal France with a fleeting glance at the Eifel Tower; perhaps a quick flight over Germany and then Poland, only to migrate over the vast plains of mighty Russia. How wonderful that is.

The yearly migratory pattern of the common swift

Migration is a fascinating topic. In fact, it is understood that around 40% of all birds in the world practice some form of migratory behaviour, and it is a much-studied topic for ornithologists, biologists and even physicists. As well as using the earth’s magnetic field, their sense of smell, wind direction and even the stars for orientation, it has been suggested that birds will even use quantum mechanics for migrating across the earth.

But the crucial question is this: which birds am I likely to see from Autumn and over the winter months, and how can I prepare to feed and help out during this time of potential hardship?

The three key groups of migratory birds include summer visitors, winter visitors and passage migrants. Summer visitors, such as swallows, martins and swifts, will arrive in spring in time for the breeding season and leave in Autumn for warmer climates. Winter visitors usually arrive in the UK from northern Scandanavian countries, where food is hard to access because of harsher conditions with snow and ice. And passage migrants will use the UK as a stop-off point to refuel on their way to other destinations.

Over autumn and winter, it is interesting that many of our familiar species such as blackbirds, robins, song thrushes and starlings can be seen. However, these common UK birds will have migrated from other locations, such as Eastern Europe, and will not be the same as those in spring.

You may even ask yourselves why it is that birds come the UK, and others leave in Autumn and winter. For those that stay, the answer is simple, and it is that we have a veritable feast of berries, nuts and fruits in our hedgerows, woodland and fields over. It truly is a natural larder for those birds canny enough to seek it out.

If you’re lucky enough to see some of the more unusual winter birds, look out for the likes of thewaxwing, brambling, redwing and siskin, which likes to feed on niger seed.

Feeding over Autumn

It’s a common practice to stock up and prepare for the winter months ahead, but don’t dismiss the importance of Autumn feeding, which will ensure your birds become familiar with a good supply of food in your garden. In fact, those birds visiting from abroad in Autumn will get to know there’s a steady supply of food, so your garden will still have visitors over winter. Keep a diverse range of food, but bear in mind that your garden birds will require high-energy foods such as suet and oil-rich peanuts, especially so over winter – use Autumn and as ‘gateway’ for feeding over winter to ensure you have plenty of birds visiting over those cold months.