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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First snow feeding frenzy

So we got our first accumulated snow of the year overnight, and based on the amount we had to shovel it looks like we got around 5 inches.  So early this morning my husband and I went out to beat the snow off the feeders, top everything off, freshen the birdbaths, and enjoy the show.  And quite the show it was.  As fast as we filled one feeder and moved on, the birds swooped in for breakfast.  They didn’t even feel the need to move when we were within a few feet of them.

We had Goldfinches and Pine Siskins (first time I’ve confirmed them at my feeders this year) on the nyjer sock feeders, probably 10+ at a time.  On the ground we had Juncos, Mourning Doves, and a couple of American Tree Sparrows (in addition to the obligate House Sparrows).  The fresh suet blocks were visited by Downy Woodpeckers, one of whom was about 3 feet away from me munching while I cleaned the birdbath.  Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal were chowing down on the tray feeder while House Finches and other LBJs (little brown jobs, some sparrows that I couldn’t get a clear view of) were all over the hopper feeder.  Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches would come to the peanut feeder and snack.  I haven’t seen or heard my Blue Jay family yet, but I’m assuming at some point they came in for their daily peanut party.  And everyone seemed happy with the fresh, clean, open water at the heated bird bath.

And lest you think that my feeders are the only things that attract the birds, I got the joy of seeing several of my feathered visitors hanging off of the Ironweed, Aster, and Brown-eyed Susan seed heads in my dormant flowerbeds and munching on the seeds.  One little Goldfinch didn’t mind hanging upside down on the slender stalk of the Ironweed for several minutes, gorging on the native plant seeds.  I loved that sight both because it confirmed that my gardens do support native wildlife and because it made me feel less like a bad steward on those days when the feeders get emptied early and/or are not hanging because they need a cleaning.  There’s still plenty in my yard to attract the natives.

At the top of the feasting, I counted around 35 birds that I could see on the ground or feeders, and there were probably several more that were deeper in under the dormant plants.  So, even though I am not a snow fan I have to be grateful for the white covering on my yard this morning for allowing me a robust show of avian action.