By August, most North American birds have completed their breeding cycle; there are exceptions, of course, including goldfinches that take advantage of the late summer thistle crop, but many bird families are beginning to merge into their large flocks of autumn and winter. These congregations may be for the purpose of migration or, in the case of our permanent residents, a means to improve survival during the lean months of the year.
Out in the countryside, mixed flocks of swallows gather on power lines, squadrons of mourning doves roam the crop fields and red-winged blackbirds move about the wetlands in large, noisy crowds. Water birds, including gulls, terns, egrets, white-faced ibis, white pelicans and shorebirds gather at favored staging sites, preparing for their journey to the south. In both urban centers and farm communities, grackles and starlings have reformed their massive armies, ready to scavenge the bounty that nature and human society have produced.
Up north, the waterfowl and cranes have also relinquished their family duties and are gathering in fields and wetlands, fueling up for their spectacular autumn migrations. Just knowing that the flocking season is underway is reassuring, a signal that the long, hot summer will soon yield to the colorful, invigorating days of fall.