Calm down, relax, and enjoy feeding and watching birds this winter
Sometimes you look out the window and there is a glut of birds at the feeder. During certain periods of migration you may have so many birds coming that you wonder if you will breach your bird feeding budget. Then there are days you look out and there are no birds. So you check again. Still no birds. OK, it’s a slow day on the Internet so you keep looking out the window and maybe you see one chickadee but that’s it. Nothing else, nada. Then paranoia seeps in … is this it, is this some catastrophic change that’s happened and all of the chickadees are dead?
Don’t get me wrong, there are catastrophic things happening that are affecting insectivores like meadowlarks, bobolinks, cerulean warblers and nighthawks. Bird feeding activity, however, can be hit or miss. Sometimes it’s temporary, sometimes it will last a week or two, but it’s rarely a cause for overall concern.
Sometimes a raptor shows up in your yard. This effect is temporary. Yes, even if the hawk is nesting in your yard, it is temporary. A good way to tell if you have a raptor in your yard is to look at the feeders. Do you see a chickadee or downy woodpecker perched on the feeder and not moving? That is a sign a hawk is in the area, and if you follow the direction of their gaze you can usually find it, too.
If you don’t see a bird completely still, like a chickadee then stick your head outside and listen. Do you hear squirrels barking? Do you hear agitated chip notes from birds? That’s a sign a predator is near and they can see things you cannot.
If a raptor is nearby, it’s usually going to affect feeder activity from anywhere from five minutes to a half hour. Even if hawks are nesting, birds will still come to your feeder. I had Cooper’s hawks nest near a feeding station and even on the day one flew in and flew off with a Canada goose gosling, bird still came to the feeder when the hawks weren’t perched right overhead on a branch.
Sometimes it’s simply season movement. We are familiar with spring and fall migration, but some species move around even further in winter. Goldfinches are very nomadic and the flock will move where ever they can find food. Some weeks that will be your feeder, other weeks it will be a feeding station 20 miles east. It’s not personal, it’s simply food-related. The birds rely on more than just your bird feeder, they also eat quite a few tree seeds. As natural foods disappear, they will move on to other areas.
Snow cover and weather fronts also make a difference. If birds have access to seeds on the ground and there’s no snow cover, they will readily eat that. As soon as snow falls, they will return to feeders in greater numbers.
So if you don’t have as many birds as you normally do, don’t fret. Enjoy the break on your seed budget. Grackles and red-winged blackbirds will return all too soon in the next month and a half and start chowing down on your sunflower seeds.