gcrfd blue jay

gcrfd blue jayWhy is it that some New Jersey birds remain in backyards year-round? Is it because they are hardy and have greater adaptability and resilience? Yes, but there are other reasons as well.

Migration is a perilous journey and those that remain avoid many hazards — habitat loss, storms, predators, etc. And beyond avoiding the hazards, birds that don’t migrate do not expend the massive amounts of energy needed to travel. Instead, their energy is used to forage for food, defend their territory and continue to have babies. Because a bird can spend more time caring for its young offspring, the next generation has a better chance of survival, maturing in a strong and healthy way.

In addition, if a bird does not migrate, it will always be in control of the best feeding and nesting areas– they will be already in place when the migrating birds return in the spring.

But it must be noted that birds do not consciously choose to do one or the other. Migration is an inherent, instinctive behavior. Some birds have evolved in their ability to precisely navigate their way through their journey while other birds have evolved to make the most of remaining in place.

In North America, some of the more familiar birds that do not migrate include many woodpeckers—the hairy, the downy, the red-bellied, the pileated. Then you must include the blue jays, gray jays, common ravens and black-billed magpies. Unexpected songbirds like the northern cardinals and northern mockingbirds remain with us as well as the great horned owl, barred owl and screech-owl. Small birds like tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees and black-capped chickadees as well as wild turkeys and quail are also part of the group that can be observed in New Jersey throughout the year.

Of course, birds that don’t migrate must adapt to survive and the different species adapt differently depending on their needs and the conditions of their range.

They do so by changing food preferences—foods that are available in different seasons. They may eat buds, insects, berries and seeds in spring and summer and switch to other sources in fall and winter when their usual intake is exhausted. Bird feeders can be a big part of a bird’s winter diet.

Caching food in late summer and autumn–hiding supplies of seeds and nuts under bark, wedged into tree crevices or burying their usual diet of foods enables non-migrators to survive the winter. Jays are masters of caching food and will hide hundreds of nuts before winter arrives.

Some year-round inhabitants will molt in late summer and early fall and gain an extra protective layer of insulating down feathers to help preserve body heat. Spring may bring a second molting that will shed the excess feathers and reveal a brighter breeding plumage.

You may have noticed that the feathered friends that remain with you are often more aggressive and have dominant personalities. They are curious and intelligent and will investigate new objects as possible sources of food or shelter. You may have also noticed that in the winter, birds combine forces, resulting in mixed flocks of birds that forage for food together. With more eyes searching, the flock will benefit. Many smaller birds like the chickadees, tufted titmice, wrens and downy woodpeckers do join forces, so watch for that.

Lastly, birds that roost together have a better chance of surviving a sudden overnight cold snap due to shared body heat. So, when you don’t see any birds at your feeders, they may be huddling—trying to survive the freezing temperatures.

It is hoped that you now understand why all birds do not migrate and why staying year-round has its advantages. Try to spend more time watching your bird feeders and see the interactions of your bird population—their unique adaptations for survival. Come the spring season, try to fill your home garden with plants that will help your feathered friends survive throughout the year—giving them protection and food. They will appreciate your efforts and you will enjoy the view outside your window. While Garden Club R.F.D. is primarily concerned with the flowers, bushes and trees in the garden, the creatures who reside in the garden environment are also our concern. One of the primary objectives of Garden Club of New Jersey (of which we are members) is to aid in the protection and conservation of our natural resources—and that includes our birds!

Our club met at the Little Red Schoolhouse on the corner of Middletown Lincroft Road and Dwight Road in January when member Felicia Cappadona discussed the when and how to prune the flowers, bushes and trees in our home gardens. Improper pruning can result in a loss of plant. Proper pruning allows your garden to flourish. It was a free, open to the public, meeting.

Another objective of Garden Club of New Jersey is to study and teach the art of flower arranging. To that end, on February 19th, Tanya Ashuck, Garden Club R.F.D.’s Accredited Life Flower Show Judge will focus our attention on the basic design principles and elements that are used to create a floral arrangement for your home. Then, in the following month, members will apply what had been learned to their own creations and will bring them to the meeting.

Garden Club R.F.D. holds meetings once a month from September through June at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Middletown Lincroft Road and Dwight Road or Middletown Arts Center. The Schoolhouse is an historic site that the club maintains, along with the surrounding land. We are a working club that cares for the herb garden at historic Marlpit Hall on King’s Highway; cares for the floral displays at the Middletown train station next to the Middletown Art Center and works with residents of Brighton Gardens once a month, bringing hands-on activities and the joy of creating into their lives.

If you would like to join our club on February 19th, please contact Nancy Canade at (973)-452-4846. There is no charge, and both men and women are welcome. Learn how to beautify your home.


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Allan Dean

Allan Dean is editor, publisher, and founder of the Atlantic Highlands Herald. Published since 1999 and selected in 2000 by the Borough of Atlantic Highlands as one of their official newspapers, making...