Where are the birds?

Where are the birds?

Over the last two weeks or so I’ve received daily calls asking “What has happened to our backyard birds?” Even on the MAINE Birds Facebook Group (membership required) there is a thread titled “Where are all the back-yard birds ? No birds at feeders for days !!” that has 345 comments of people mostly echoing the lack of backyard birds. I literally can’t keep up with the calls so want to let you readers know – and encourage your sharing – that the birds are fine. Several factors have all aligned perfectly to minimize the detectability of birds in backyards. Here are a few:

The amount of naturally occurring food on the landscape right now is both plentiful and diverse. Many flowers are going to seed (goldenrods and asters especially while some late blooming species like New England Aster are still adding a beautiful splash to the landscape).

Fruit is ripening. The Arrowwood Viburnum was a huge hit for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher we hosted at Gilsland Farm last week, along with the Northern Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, and Gray Catbirds that continue to strip the fruit from those bushes. Plus the abundant winterberry starting to ripen and Mountain Ash seems plentiful among tons of other berries I can’t (or haven’t tried to) identify.

And insects seem more than happy with this warm weather we have been experiencing. At least mosquitos are still plentiful. Plus we’ve seen a bunch of insects on the move as they prep for winter. This should change pretty quickly with the cold front that came in on the night of September 28 (more on that below).

Speaking of that low pressure system, the weather has been ideal for birds not only to find food but also for migrating. We are still seeing tons of birds heading south, some ‘record breaking’ movements are even being reported. Though birds are never dependent on feeders, they are even less so in good weather while food is abundant. My best prediction is that things will go back to normal as this cold front progresses and especially once we get a low pressure system (rain) moving through Maine.

As mentioned, birds are migrating so we are definitely seeing fewer birds around – only a few of the otherwise abundant Eastern Phoebes at Gilsland Farm are still here; Yellow Warblers that nested along the edge of trails are virtually all gone; even shorebird numbers are dwindling with almost all juveniles [depending on the species] passing through. As it gets later we do expect our ‘winter birds’ to show up but it looks like a mixed report from the Winter Finch Forecast: crossbills are around; redpolls in small numbers; grosbeak and waxwings have plenty of food up north. And of course the detectability of most birds is down right now as they’ve almost all finished breeding – no reason to be singing anymore.

So we’ve got tons of naturally occurring food, lots of migrants flying south, virtually no birds singing, and really no reason for birds to be hanging out in our yards or at our feeders. They are out there though! If you need proof, check out these line graphs from eBird, showing a steady increase in frequency in our resident birds but expected declines in our migrants:

  • Black-capped Chickadee – a resident species
  • Blue Jay – a resident with migrants causing an uptick
  • Yellow Warbler – a migrant that is leaving.

If this isn’t good enough, give it a couple weeks for all the previously mentioned variables to change – they’ll be back. Why not take this lull in activity as an opportunity to clean your feeders.

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