WORDS ON BIRDS
Fewer Birds Noted at Area Feeders
September 16, 2017
By Steve Grinley
around this time each year when more people are asking "where are
all my birds?" Though many feeders are still active, many folks
complain that their birds have disappeared from their backyards and
feeders. One person stated that this was the first time in fifty
years that she had no birds! Most first suspect that it must be the
bird seed. Others wonder if it may be from the spraying for
mosquitoes in their area.
the hummingbirds, orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and other summer
resident birds are all but gone now. A few linger, but most have
headed south for warmer climates. Even many of the red-winged
blackbirds, cowbirds and grackles have left.
The winter birds have yet to arrive. The juncos, tree sparrows,
redpolls, pine siskins, evening grosbeaks and crossbills likely
won’t be here for at least another few weeks or longer. A few of the
migrating sparrows will be coming through soon, but, otherwise,
there is a sort of "lull" in the migration as far a feeder birds go.
But how about the year ‘round
residents? The chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, titmice,
nuthatches, goldfinches, house finches and other birds that are
usually here all the time seem to have also disappeared, or at least
slowed down at the feeders. We have even noticed it at our home
feeders. What is happening?
Interestingly, I have also received several comments that the
squirrels have disappeared from their yards and feeders! While
people go to great lengths (and often great expense) to keep
squirrels away, they seem to miss them when they are gone! So what
is going on?
This situation occurs
almost every year at about this time. My theory is that early autumn
is the time of year when the natural supply of seeds and nuts is
most abundant. Despite the popular belief that birds only eat from
your feeders and are dependent upon them, the birds are actually
just using your feeders to supplement what they can find in the
Birds, and squirrels, are very
opportunistic. When the supply of natural seeds and nuts is
plentiful, they take advantage of that. I've noticed many oak trees
with blue jays (and squirrels) foraging in them for acorns now. We
have several hickory trees in our backyard and all day long the
squirrels are dropping the hickory nuts to the ground and eating or
The birds know
that your feeders are there and, hopefully, will be there when they
are tired of foraging and their natural food supply starts to
dwindle again. It would be akin to your picking a fresh tomato from
your garden for a salad that evening. Doesn’t it taste so much
better than the ones you find at the grocery store? Don’t you take
advantage of the fresh produce from your garden, or the local farm,
when it is available?
The same could
be said for fresh fish from our local lakes or ocean and fresh meat
from a local hunt. Doesn’t the fish that you or a family member
caught that day taste so much better than the fillet that you pick
out of the fish counter at the grocery store? If there is a hunter
in the family, fresh meat is decidedly better than that from the
meat case at the store. In season, we prefer fresh and local.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy
vegetables, fish and meat during other seasons, or to supplement
what we can’t grow or catch ourselves. We know what we like, and we
take advantage of the availability of fresh, local food when we can.
When we can’t, we enjoy the freshest we can find elsewhere. Well, so
do the birds.
Birds “shop around”
for the freshest meal. If natural food is not readily available,
they will go to the feeders with the freshest seed. That probably
why I hear so often that the birds won’t eat the seed that they got
from the big box stores. Who knows how long that seed has been in
Of course there are
other reasons why birds don’t visit, or stop visiting, particular
feeders or backyards. Cats, either your own or a neighbor’s, is
often problem number one. Despite hearing that "my cat is an outdoor
cat", or "my cat wouldn’t hurt a fly," all cats have a natural
instinct to kill birds. And they do. Billions (with a "B") each
Seed that isn’t fresh or has
gone bad in feeders is probably the second biggest reason that birds
stay away. Bacteria grow in feeders that have been neglected, and
that is harmful to the birds. Like us at the grocery store, when we
see, feel, and sense what is fresh, we avoid those foods that don’t
appear so. So do the birds. Many feeders that come in for repair are
merely in need of a good cleaning to make them functional and
Hawks and other
natural predators are another reason for birds to stay away. These
are usually temporary situations and only last for minutes or hours,
rarely days or longer. Once the predator moves on, the birds return.
So my guess is that if you clean your
feeders regularly, and use fresh, good quality seed, you will entice
birds with a more natural offering. It doesn’t mean that they won’t
prefer the abundance of natural seeds and nuts available in the wild
right now. Once their natural supply of food is reduced, they will
choose your menu over others, and they will become regular visitors
to your feeders again.
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