Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Are Birds Disappearing From Your Feeders?
September 08, 2023
by Steve Grinley
We have already heard the question of “where are all my birds?” this season. A few folks have already complained that their birds have disappeared from their backyards and feeders. Some ask if it could be the bird seed. Others wondered if it might be from the spraying for mosquitoes in their area.
Certainly many of the hummingbirds, orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and other summer resident birds have departed by now, or will in the weeks ahead. A few may 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 month or more. A few of the migrating sparrows will be coming through soon, but, otherwise, there is a sort of “lull” in the migration as far as feeder birds go.
But what about the year ‘round residents? The chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, titmice, nuthatches, goldfinches, house finches and other birds are usually here all the time seem to be visiting feeders less. Where are they going?
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 wild.
Birds 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 foraging in them for acorns now. 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 like 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? Similarly, we usually prefer fresh meat from local farms.
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 food that we can find elsewhere. Well, so do the birds.
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 kill billions (with a “B”) each year.
Seed that isn’t fresh or has gone bad in feeders is probably the second biggest reason that birds stay away. Bacteria build in feeders that have been neglected and are harmful to the birds. With all the rain that we had this past summer, this problem was accentuated. Like us at the grocery store, when we see, feel, and sense what is fresh, we avoid those foods that don’t appear to be. So do the birds.
Hawks and other natural predators are another reason for birds to stay away. Young hawks that fledged this past season look for feeders as easy “pickings” this time of year. These are usually temporary situations and only last for a few hours or days.
Many people are still enjoying a number of birds at their feeders, including many young birds that continue to follow their parents around. If you clean your feeders regularly, and use fresh, good quality seed, you are helping to entice birds to a more natural offering. It doesn’t mean that they won’t prefer the abundance of natural seeds and nuts right now, but they will choose your menu over others as their natural supply is reduced and they will become more regular visitors to your feeders, in time, once again.