For the Birds: Readers report sightings and lack thereof

Photo by Chris Bosak Ablack-capped chickadee grabs a sunflower seed from a Christmas decoration during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A black-capped chickadee grabs a sunflower seed from a Christmas decoration during the winter of 2016-17 in Danbury, Conn.

Readers take over as we settle in for a nice holiday break.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and keep those bird sightings, observations and questions coming.

Susan in Nelson (N.H.) is one of the lucky birdwatchers to have seen evening grosbeaks this year. The handsome yellow, black and white bird has been spotted throughout New England in larger numbers than normal this fall. Susan lives at high elevation and has been hosting the grosbeaks since late November.

Evening grosbeaks, like many birds, unfortunately, are somewhat of a rare sighting in New England these days. They used to be more common in our region, but now a sighting is cause for celebration. I haven’t seen any at my home yet, but I did spy one during my early November trip to Pittsburg, N.H.

Lida in Harrisville sent some great photos of much larger birds that visited her backyard feeder. The photo shows two wild turkeys on her deck — not far from the glass door — eating from a platform feeder.

Ken in Swanzey and Sandy in Keene shared a concern: Where are all the birds.

Both have had plenty of birds at their feeders in the past — even the recent past — but suddenly the birds stopped showing up.

Ken writes: “Our two feeders are normally jammed with at least eight species of small birds. It is not unusual for me to have to fill each feeder daily, such are their fall appetites. And, then, a month ago, gone! Nothing!”

Sandy shared: “About a week before Thanksgiving we stopped seeing or hearing any bird activity. Post-Thanksgiving, we have spotted just a few. This is not typical of years past.”

It’s a question I get fairly often at different times of the year. The typical responses I hear others give is that the feeders may be dirty, a cat or a hawk may be lurking nearby, the seed may be old, or maybe the birds have found another feeding station nearby.

Those reasons, or a combination thereof, may be the cause for the disappearance of birds from some backyards. I doubt they are true in many cases, however. My guess is that the feeders are clean, the seed is fresh, predators are coming and going as usual, and there are plenty of birds to occupy all the feeders in the neighborhood.

So, what is it then? My response is typically that there is no simple answer and that the birds will eventually return.

Nature has its cycles and is just as unpredictable as it is predictable. We can do all the studies and research we want, but we’ll never have all of the answers. That’s part of what makes nature so fascinating to us.

It can be frustrating for sure to look out the window and not see the number of birds you typically see. It can also be concerning. I wouldn’t worry so much about a short-term dearth of birds at your feeders, however, frustrating as that may be.

It is important to take note of these slow periods — as Ken and Sandy have done — because when short-term turns into long-term, then there’s cause for real concern.


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