SCORES & OUTDOORS
by Roland D. Hallee
As an update to my column of two weeks ago about the disappearance of birds from our backyard feeders, I have done some more research, and received some feedback from readers.
Through the dog days of August, it is not unusual to see and hear fewer birds. The nesting season has ended. So, young birds and their parents have dispersed and left their nesting territories (your yard). If natural food is plentiful, they are less likely to supplement their diet with your feeders. Migration has also started. Backyard birds with long migration routes will start leaving early in more northern areas of the country as insect populations start to fall off. Midday heat will make birds more inactive. Summer temperatures will often cause birds to be less active during the middle of the day. So, it’s possible that the warm fall we are experiencing has something to do with it. So, they won’t come to feeders as much.
“Things are going wrong with our environment,” writes John Terborgh, a James B. Duke Profesor of Environmental Science at Duke University. “Even the parts of it that are nominally protected. If we wait until all the answers are in, we may find ourselves in a much worse predicament than if we had taken notice of the problem earlier. By waiting, one risks being too late; on the other hand, there can be no such thing as being too early.”
For some interesting insight, read Terborgh’s book, Where Have All the Birds Gone?: Essays on the Biology and Conservation of Birds that Migrate to the American Tropics.
Is this talk about national bird declines just hot air? No. As well as all these apparent disappearances of birds, there has been a serious, countrywide, decline in the numbers of many birds, including many well known and loved species. This decline has been slow and gradual, rather than sudden. Extensive research has shown that these declines are caused primarily by changes in agriculture.
According to ArkWildlife, a respected online trading bird food and wildlife habitats company, and 24 years of history with a passion for garden wildlife, “don’t panic, nothing’s gone wrong. The birds are simply following the natural seasons, food availability and their natural behaviour. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, birds can suffer real food shortages during the summer months at a time most vital to them – the breeding season. Wet weather or a late spring can all mean a lack of insects to forage for when the trees and hedgerows have long since been stripped of berries and seeds. So birds turn to our gardens in huge numbers to supplement their diet and even bring fledglings directly from the nest to the feeder.”
Although we don’t see it very often, there is a year-round cycle within the bird world. As we transition into fall, birds go into different feeding patterns.
Don’t worry, according to many bird research sources, they will come back. So don’t take down those feeders yet. Keep them filled, the birds will love you for it.
Here are a few responses we received on our website:
Janie says: It appears the loss of birds is quite widespread…not just in Maine. I live in upstate New York… Catskill Mountains region; and we haven’t had any birds, at all, for over a month. We went for about a 45 minute drive to admire the autumn foliage, and we did not see even one bird spotted flying during the drive… and we were specifically watching to see if another area had birds. My relatives and I feed them year round… and usually have to refill the feeders on a daily basis. There have always been lots of birds year round… this has not happened before in over the 25 years I have lived here. On a positive note, we noticed this weekend a few birds have started to return from wherever they had gone! It is so nice to hear and see them again!
JHM says: I have had a feeder in Waterville, Maine, for many years. The first few days in September the hummingbird sat at the nectar feeder almost all day and evidently left that night on his southern journey. Until about that date my seed feeder had many daily bird visits from tufted titmice, several male and female cardinals, many chickadees, gold finches and house finches, and others. But right about that time in early to mid-September I realized my feeder was staying full and there were no birds, only an occasional squirrel. I cleaned the feeder and bought new seeds, but still no luck. I kept a look out for predators and did see a cat several times. But, that is not unusual. I have seen an occasional titmouse and cardinal but that is it. I have seen some birds in the trees, but not as many as I have seen in the past. I hope they will come back as the birds are a bright spot by my kitchen window during the long winter.
Caroline says: I was just googling “where are the birds” and this article was high in the search. I live in Southport, North Carolina. Usually my feeders are covered with many types of birds, especially House finches. But for the last month or two, I have a couple of chickadees, cardinals and nuthatches. This area is rich in bird life, especially water birds (egrets, herons, etc) and those birds seem to be about the same. But I am very shocked at the decrease in feeder birds. We have a lot of insects here. I have noticed no decrease in them. I am very concerned to find an article from Maine that describes a similar situation.