Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Storms Negative Effect on Birds
April 05, 2024
By Steve Grinley
     March was unusually wet this year and the rain continues into April with a nor’easter that came up the coast. This week’s storm with soaking rain, bouts of snow and ice, and high winds are having its effects on birds. Tom Wetmore was “stuck” on Plum Island during Thursday morning’s storm as he watched piping plovers wandering around the flooded parking lot #1 on the refuge. No beach for the plovers on this morning, and flooded roads prevented Tom from leaving the island.  
     (Please note: Tom reported that the Maintenance Area parking lot was flooded. The road past Lot 6, Stage Island and the road between the Pines Trail and the North Pool Overlook were all fine due to the impoundments holding back the storm surge as they were designed to do! What happens when the impoundments are destroyed by the Refuge??)
     The flooding is the extreme case of the negative effects the weather has 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 and other birds visiting the feeders during and after the storm.
     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. Spread some fresh seed on the ground for the sparrows and lingering juncos.
     It may be nicer 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. New arrivals will need to replenish after their long journey north. Many resident birds 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. Breeding birds will feed suet to their young as it is very palatable and quick fat. Though bluebirds prefer an offering of meal worms, even they will enjoy suet if insects are not available. 
     The other effect these wind storms have had, as a result of 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. Birds will even use unoccupied houses as roosting sites to get out the nasty weather, especially at night.
     Most of our spring migrants seem to be arriving on time. A quick check of the ruby-throated hummingbird migration map reveals their progress to around Washington DC and Maryland.  It will likely be two to three more weeks before the first ones make it to our area. The majority will be here in May. 
     So you have time to dig out your hummingbird and oriole feeders in the weeks ahead. Often the hummingbirds will come to the spot where you usually 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 hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of miles! We have airline pilots, with all their sophisticated equipment, who sometimes land at the wrong airport a few hundred miles away!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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