For the Birds: Where are the birds?

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse perches on a homemade birdfeeder in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A tufted titmouse perches on a homemade birdfeeder in Danbury, Conn., March 2017.

It started with one, like nearly all things do. Then another came in, and they kept coming.
“Where are the birds?” was the similar question in the emails and phone calls.
Here are few examples:
“Why am I not seeing as many birds at my feeders for the last two to three weeks?”
“I’ve probably seen a woodpecker or two since the beginning of September! What is going on? Why don’t the birds find us again?”
“The birds I feed here in Richmond have disappeared. Myself and my neighbors haven’t seen them for several weeks.”
Becky of New Hampshire offered some hope, however. She said crows were more numerous than in past years and that the smaller birds stopped coming.
“They are just lately slowly reappearing,” she wrote.
So they are coming back. My guess is that all of the writers asking where the birds have gone will soon get their birds back.
Why do yards with bird feeders go through slow times? It’s not in the owners’ imagination. It actually happens and for several potential reasons.
Two reasons, which I’m fairly sure are not the case with my readers, are dirty feeders or spoiled seed. It’s important to keep feeders clean for the health of the birds that visit. It’s also important to change the seed if it has been in the feeder for too long. High temperatures or precipitation can cause the seed to go bad.
Many people suggest changing your seed offerings to bring the birds back. Try using safflower or different blend, they say. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that way of thinking. If your birds have enjoyed black-oil sunflower seeds for years, why would they suddenly snub their beaks at it? If, on the other hand, a particular type of seed has never really worked, then yeah, try a different type.
Predators often cause a temporary loss or reduction of birds that visit feeders. First-year accipiter hawks – sharp-shinned and Cooper’s — are learning to hunt on their own and stalking feeders. The adults could be out there lurking, too. Perhaps a new cat is in the neighborhood and scaring the birds away from yards and into the safety of cover.
Finally — and to my thinking the most plausible reason — the birds are perhaps finding all they need from natural sources. There is plentiful food out there in the real world for birds in the fall, especially a fall like this that has been warm and dry.
There are seeds galore to be had from flowers such as coneflower, black-eyed susan, coreopsis, sedum, and sunflowers, as well as countless weed and grass varieties. The birds don’t really need the feeders in this time of plenty. Sure, they often do come when natural food is plentiful, but sometimes they don’t.
When they don’t come to feeders, it’s a temporary pause. The birds will be back. Weather will turn for the worse soon enough and natural food sources will decrease dramatically. That will bring the birds back to the feeders for supplemental food sources again.
So they will be back. I promise. Make sure the seeds in the feeders are fresh. If birds haven’t visited in a few weeks, it’s probably a good idea to change out those seeds with fresh ones. Rain or humidity could have seeped in and made the seeds moldy or otherwise spoiled.
Are you experiencing a slowdown at your feeders or is it business as usual? Let me know by dropping me a line at

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