- Don't confine your birding to "October's bright blue
weather." Storms and heavy rains may force down unusual
species or create concentrations of more common migrants.
- Although a few migrant Canada Goose flocks arrive in
late September, the most dramatic influx comes in early
to mid-October. There is often a day (and night) when
hundreds or thousands of birds in dozens of flocks may be
seen and heard overhead. Unlike the numerous resident
geese, most of the migrants will be flying at a great
height in purposeful flight and many flocks will track
along a similar path.
- Waterfowl arrive in good numbers, especially the
latter half of the month—often in bad weather. Numbers
and species may change daily. Remember that many fall
mornings combine cool air and warm water temperatures
which are ideal conditions for fog. It is most often a
problem on the reservoirs, producing frustrating viewing
conditions until later in the day.
- From late October through early December, Long-tailed
Ducks are possible. Although they have been most
consistent on Triadelphia Reservoir, a few birds have
been seen on local ponds and lakes, particularly
- Most Green Herons disappear after early October;
occasionally, a few linger longer. A handful of late
records span November.
- Hawk migration continues with accipiters and falcons
predominating, although one of our most common buteos,
the Red-tailed Hawk, reaches peak numbers during the last
half of October. A few Merlins may be seen from September
into November. Peregrine Falcons migrate mostly in
October. They have been observed most frequently over
extensive fields or reservoirs.
- Soras have been seen as late as October 23rd.
- American Coots begin to arrive and can usually be
seen on one or more of the larger lakes.
- Although shorebird numbers drop this month, don't
ignore mudflats. Black-bellied Plovers, Greater and
Lesser yellowlegs, Semipalmated, Least, White-rumped, and
Pectoral sandpipers, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitchers
have all been observed at least once during this month.
There are seldom more than a few of any of these species.
Pigtail and Browns Bridge are prime shorebird locations.
Big Branch is also worth checking. The attractiveness of
these sites depends on the water level in the
reservoirs. The other possibility for late shorebirds is
the entrance pond at Western Regional Park, but much
depends on the amount of edge exposed and whether the mud
- Two of the three Red Phalarope records are from
October—one from Centennial Park and one from Lake
- Watch for a late Forster's Tern over the reservoirs
and larger lakes. The county's latest record is at the
end of the month, but there is a possibility they could
still be wandering through into early November.
- The first major wave of Northern Saw-whet Owls should
be arriving and/or moving through the last week of
October and the first week of November.
- The majority of Chimney Swifts disappear just after
the middle of the month; an occasional bird may be
spotted until late October.
- Keep hummingbird feeders filled! The vast majority of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have departed by early
October. Any hummingbird seen late this month or in
succeeding months is more likely to be a stray from the
West rather than the expected Ruby-throated. Most are
immature birds. Identification may be difficult or
impossible unless they are captured and banded. Howard
County is fortunate to have a registered hummingbird
bander who can band the bird and release it. Banding
these late migrants can provide useful information about
out-of-range species, not to mention positive
identification. Please contact this website immediately
if you have a late hummingbird coming to a feeder that is not
identifiable as a Ruby-throated.
- Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, both kinglets, and Winter
Wrens show up in numbers.
- Outside the breeding season, American and Fish crows
travel many miles to roost with other crows. Depending on
day length and distance from a roost, crows may be seen
flying in one direction (or staging at intermediate
stops) as early as 3:00 p.m.
- The fruit of the black (sour) gum is attractive to a
wide variety of bird species. The foliage usually turns
red early so the tree is easy to spot. Half a dozen
species may feed in a single tree.
- The last few days of September through the third week
of October is the prime time for Marsh Wrens to be moving
through the county.
- During mid to late October when Ruby-crowned Kinglets
arrive in large numbers, they sometimes can be found at
close range and near eye level in dry patches of
goldenrod, giant ragweed, and other densely vegetated
- Passerines are still going through. Warbler numbers
(except for Yellow-rumps) drop dramatically by the last
half of the month. Falling yellow, brown, and mottled
green leaves can make it difficult to spot drab, mostly
- By late October, Yellow-rumped Warblers are gobbling
poison ivy fruit. By winter, there may be little remaining.
- October is sparrow month. Rarities are always a
possibility, especially if one seeks the specialized
habitats of the more unusual species. The University of
Maryland Farm (non-public) and Mt. Pleasant both have excellent
sparrow habitat. There is always the possibility of spotting a
species that has never been documented in the county or
one that has not been seen for many years.
- Look for Rusty Blackbirds in wet, floodplain woods.
Patuxent River State Park is a good area to search during
fall and winter.
- If this is an invasion year, Red-breasted Nuthatches,
Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins may begin appearing at
feeders late this month or early next. Numbers of all
feeder birds begin increasing this month.