Birdless December

So, I think it’s safe to say that I have been spoiled.  Over the past several months of focusing on building my backyard habitat, I’ve come to expect that I will see several birds at my feeders at any given time.  And especially with the new snow and my heated bird bath, I had come to anticipate looking out the window and seeing my many visitors.  Hearing the call of a Blue Jay and rushing to the window to see them rummage for the heaviest peanut to take into the neighbor’s lilac tree for a snack.  Having to fill my feeders every day (and sometimes twice a day) because the volume of avian visitors was eating me out of house and home in birdseed.

So I became very concerned over these past couple of weeks when my visitors went way down.  And I don’t just mean a few less goldfinches on the sock feeders, I’m talking almost nobody at ANY of my feeders.  Even my tray feeder, usually picked clean between the sparrows, finches, Jays, and cardinals, would have seeds remaining in it when I did my morning check and fill.  What was going on?  Had there been some sort of massive disease outbreak in the neighborhood that killed off all my feathered friends?  Had I misread the ingredients list on my latest birdseed purchase and it was full of undesirable filler?  What had I done to make my yard suddenly songless?

Well, thanks to the vast knowledge available on the internet, I was able to confirm that apparently it’s not just me and it’s not just my area.  December is apparently notorious for being the month with the least number of birds visiting bird feeders pretty much everywhere in the US.  The reasons are not 100% clear and probably are multi-faceted, but the prevailing opinion seems to be a combination of factors that lead to fewer at-feeder sightings…

  • Natural food sources (fruits, seeds, nuts, etc.) are still fairly prevalent in many places in December (in fact, late fall rains can knock more foods onto the ground and INCREASE the natural food availability in many places).  Since birds prefer natural food to what is offered in feeders, they are less inclined to visit.
  • As the weather gets colder, birds are more likely to flock together to roost at night and have their morning feed close to where they roosted.  So where previously birds were more spread out over the landscape, now they are concentrated (and apparently they are not concentrated in my yard).
  • Some people only put out bird seed in the winter, mistakenly believing that birds only eat/need supplemental feeding in the winter or that feeding at other times of the year will keep birds from migrating.  So not only are birds concentrated in limited areas, but there are more feeders (and therefore more competition) for their limited visits.
  • And some of it may just be perception.  The increased number of birds present at feeders in the months before (either traveling through for migration or adding winter ‘insulation’), makes the sudden decline in visitors even more evident.

Whatever the reason, I for one can’t wait for this depressing December dry-spell to end so that I can get back to recording lots of new and interesting visitors to my feeders.  They just look downright lonely out there right now…

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