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Birding Through the Seasons - July

July marks the end of the nesting season for most species. Some species are complet-ing second or replacement clutches, while others continue to feed the year‟s progeny. By shear numbers, Pennsylvania‟s woods and thickets support the greatest number of birds with nesting adults and resulting young included.

As nesting territories break down, many species begin to wander, during a period known as the "post-breeding dispersal" period. Young swallows, in particular, become more conspicuous along country roads and near streams. Migrant raptors such as the Broad-winged Hawk become more conspicuous as they move away from their nests and can be seen perching in the open, sometimes on power lines.

A few species, however, begin a second or third clutch during this month, and late nesters, such as the American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing, begin to nest. Others such as Gray Catbird and Brown Thrasher could be in their second nesting while Eastern Bluebirds may be engaged in their third nesting by mid-July. Hummingbirds can be very common in July with the young out of the nest looking for food. The flowers of yards and gardens can attract many "hummers‟ with nectar and in-sects.

Even with these swollen numbers, by the end of the month, woodlands sustain a strange quiet. Bird song is reduced to a few persistent species, notably Red-eyed Vireo and Eastern Wood-Pewee, but most species are quiet. Species that are nesting a second time are more likely to be singing in mid-summer. Yet, it is a good time of year to find adult birds feeding dependent young or carrying food across county to hungry mouths.

But migration is already well underway. July 4th marks the start of fall migration as shorebirds, such as Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, and Short-billed Dowitchers, begin to arrive from the tundra. While Pennsylvania is not known for shorebirds (outside Presque Isle State Park, John Heinz Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia, and the lower Susquehanna River at Fairview), a variety of species may be seen, particularly in August. To find migrating shorebirds, it is good to look for any exposed mud flats along rivers and lake shores during the drier days of summer. Early nesting songbirds also are congregating in flocks in mid-summer. In early July, large flocks of Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds can blacken the sky in rural counties and some-times in towns. Many songbirds switch their diet to include more wild fruits and berries in mid- to late-summer, foraging on blackberries, cherries, and blueberries.

Dan Brauning
Pennsylvania Game Commission