Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Storms Have Negative Effect on Birds
April 3, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     What an unusual March it was. The record rains that we had were the result of several nor’easters that came up the coast. That, apparently, has driven many birds to us from further south. Many customers have commented on the arrival of THEIR “summer” robins. MY “summer” robin, the one that starts singing at o’dark thirty, began its early morning serenade outside my window once the rains stopped this week.

     Some birds have appeared much ahead of their normal arrival dates. An uncommon prothonotary warbler was visiting a feeder of hulled sunflower and a suet feeder on Cape Cod this week. An Eastern towhee has been singing on Plum Island, a few weeks earlier than usual. An early little blue heron was in Essex last week, and an early black-bellied plover was spotted by the Wednesday morning birding group out of Mass Audubon Joppa Flats.

     Birds that arrive too early often do so at a cost. A white-eyed vireo, a bird that usually arrives in May, was found dead on a Cape Cod Beach this week. A yellow-billed cuckoo, another May migrant, was discovered dead at Salisbury Beach State Park last Sunday. I retrieved the corpse on Monday and it now resides in my freezer until I can deliver it to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. When I picked it up, it was evident that there wasn’t an ounce of fat on the bird. It traveled all the way from the southern hemisphere and its main diet is caterpillars. Needless to say, there aren’t many caterpillars in New England right now.

     These are extreme cases of the negative effects the weather has had on our birds. Even our resident birds, such as chickadees, nuthatches and titmice struggle to survive these early spring storms. There are not a lot of insects out yet and much of the winter’s supply of natural seed and fruit has been depleted. It certainly is evident from the large numbers of goldfinches now visiting the thistle feeders.

     If you have feeders, now is a good time to keep them full. If the feeders were out in all that rain, it may be time to dump out the soggy seed, clean the feeder thoroughly, let it dry completely, and fill it with fresh seed. It may be warm this weekend, but more cold nights, and probably more storms, are surely ahead of us. Now is the time when birds can try to fatten up in preparation for what may lie ahead. Many are also preparing to breed, and ample body weight is necessary to improve successful nesting.

     Many birds take advantage of suet during spring for the same reason. The high fat content of suet gives their body the quick energy it needs to survive a long migration and the early spring weather changes in New England. Though they prefer an offering of meal worms, even bluebirds will enjoy suet if insects are not available.

     The other effect these wind storms have had, by tumbling trees and breaking limbs, is the loss of nesting cavities for many birds. Now is the time to clean out, and repair if necessary, any bird houses that you have up. You might consider adding another one to help shelter the homeless birds.

     I’ve been telling people that the orioles and hummingbirds may begin to arrive in late April, with the peak of their migration here in mid May. I was told, however, that the apple blossoms in Washington DC are peaking early this year, which might bring some of these nectar eating birds to us sooner. So you may want to prepare and put out your hummer and oriole feeders in the next few weeks. Often those hummers will come to the spot where you hang your feeder, even if you haven’t put it out yet. Amazing that these little birds can find their way back to your feeder (actually they consider it THEIR feeder) in your backyard after traveling thousands of miles. We have airline pilots that, with all their sophisticated equipment, sometimes land at the wrong airport a few hundred miles away!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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