News & Views

Where Are the Birds at Our Feeders?

I have been disappointed and rather alarmed at the lack of birds at my feeder and in my back yard since sometime in mid-September. Consequently I have decided to do some research in an attempt to figure out what is happening.

One part of the explanation is explained by population dynamics: all song birds are subject to natural fluctuations from year to year. This is associated with weather, food supply, predators and other conditions. We are under the mistaken idea that the birds we see in our yards from day to day are constant elements but they are extremely dynamic. Some years our summering resident birds are replaced by a different winter population.  We may even search the neighboring woods and find that there is silence and inactivity and there is nothing alarming about this. When birds have left their feeding territories, they leave some areas bird-less as they are flocking together elsewhere.

Fall weather is another factor. The temperatures have been mild this fall and the amount of wild food available has increased. Birds routinely change their eating behavior and this autumn there has been an abundance of natural food for them which they prefer to the seeds we put out in our feeders. Wild foods include berries, weed seeds, acorns and nuts and seeds especially from the white pines. The birds will tend to concentrate where the wild food is plentiful, leaving other areas barren of birds.

The worried birdwatcher becomes suspicious that our bird seed may be at fault and undertakes a thorough cleaning of their feeder and replacement with fresh seed – which I have done! But to no avail, as I still did not have an increase in birds. Neighborhood predators can also have an influence. Birds will make themselves scarce when threated by hawks, cats, etc. This is generally temporary as the predators move along.

Do not be discouraged, our feathered friends will be back and our patience will be rewarded. As a matter of fact, I finally have had some birds coming to my feeders early in November as it has been getting colder. (Information taken from Mass. Audubon Society and the National Aviary) 

— Pat Cocot
    Warblings, Winter 2017-18

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