Fall bird migration brings new colors and sounds to the neighborhood

A cooper's hawk in a tree
A Cooper’s Hawk in Rutter’s Mill Park in 2022; Mark Martin

There’s a chance you might see a stranger in your backyard this month or next.  Don’t call 911.

The fall bird migration is underway and for attentive residents of Bolton Hill, that means an opportunity to spot a wide range of birds that are passing through heading south for the winter months.  If not in your yard, look for them in neighborhood and other nearby parks where each night they come down from the skies in search of insects or berries, water and a safe place to rest.

The migration begins in late summer as birds head south for winter warmth.  Some birds from the north will come here and stay for months, while others drop in briefly, then head for southern states or Central America. Birds, of course, do not recognize city or neighborhood boundaries so there are no guarantees.  Among the best close-by spots to watch birds any time are Druid Hill Park with its large reservoir, substantial tree cover and open fields, but also Stony Run, which is more of a trail than a park, running south through Roland Park and Keswick.

David Spector, a retired teaching physician who lives in the neighborhood, has been birding for more than 30 years.  He also recommends Lake Roland, Cromwell Valley Park, Loch Raven Reservoir and Patterson Park. The best time to watch for birds is early morning or evenings.

He says there are an estimated 100-120 species that breed in the region.  The website Birdcast, operated in collaboration with Cornell University, estimates the numbers, altitudes and speeds of birds flying over the Baltimore area nightly – 129,000 alone on the night of Sept. 10.  They tend to fly at night, said Spector, using enormous energy and then dropping down, exhausted.  “Sometimes you can find dead or exhausted birds on the sidewalks downtown, confused and endangered by streetlights and windows.”

Spector is collaborating with the Bolton Hill Garden Club to bring an Audubon Society expert to the neighborhood for a program on what plants can encourage and sustain birds in the neighborhood.  He says websites like eBird, iBird Pro and Sibley Guides can help new birders and old hands alike in identifying unfamiliar breeds.  And Merlin Bird ID can – hearing a bird sound from your iPhone –  usually  identify it. He also recommends the 70-year-old Baltimore Bird Club, part of the Maryland Ornithological Society, as a place where new and would-be birders can find support and organized birding events.

There are many more-or-less year-round species in this area: blue jays, American crows, Carolina chickadees, mockingbirds, some woodpeckers, vultures, mallards, house sparrows, finches and ubiquitous robins, to name a few.  During fall migration in September and October one can hope to see kinglets, winter wrens, white-throated sparrows, thrushes and grosbeaks – and up to 30 varieties of wood warblers.

“These migration patterns go back for thousands of years,” he said, “but the patterns are changing as the pace of climate change intensifies.” It’s not clear that the migratory patterns we see today will be the same during our grandchildren’s lives.