Contributed photo

A black-capped chickadee feasts on a sunflower seed. For more photos and additional discussion of the lack of birds at bird feeders, see River Talk at

Disappearing birds explained

REGION — There has been a rash of comments on social media in recent weeks about birds disappearing from bird feeders. The phenomena is reportedly real but not of concern, according to an email sent from Marc Devokaitis, a public information specialist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The topic is also dealt with by Scott Rando in The River Reporter’s River Talk this week (see Devokaitis’ email said:

“Each fall, people write to us about the sudden disappearance of birds at their feeders.

“The conventional wisdom surrounding this annual phenomenon is that fall brings with it an abundance of natural food. Resources are available in every nook and cranny of the world right now: fields and roadsides filled with wild flowers going to seed, mature cones on conifer trees, the remains of harvested farm fields, and fruits and seeds covering the trees and shrubs in the forest. In light of this annual bounty, the common, year-round resident birds—finches, cardinals, chickadees, etc.—are simply doing what they have done for millennia: skipping the usual feeder fare and making use of this temporary abundance.

“Think about it this way: If you had just one chance a year to choose from a large assortment of hot, fresh muffins at your local bakery, instead of picking up the plastic encased grocery-store variety, wouldn’t you jump at the chance?

“But even we have been surprised by the drastic uptick in the number of reports of ‘missing birds’ in the fall of 2017—anecdotally, perhaps a five- to 10-fold increase over a typical year. At this point we are chalking this observed change up to an incredibly good year for seeds and fruit in the Northeast (where almost all of these reports have come from) and to the extended warm weather that has made it easier for birds to avail themselves of the bounty.

“This hypothesis was bolstered by a recent comment from Dr. Donald Leopold, chair of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at the SUNY school of Environmental Science and Forestry. He said, ‘Not only are conifers producing an extraordinary abundance of cones, but I have never seen such an abundance of walnuts, hickories, oak acorns, sugar maple and white ash samaras, and other tree fruits and seeds. Interestingly, I’ve seen this above average production across the Northeast.’

“By November, birds usually start returning to feeders with more regularity. Will this still hold true in this somewhat unusual year? If you are interested in helping us track the birds that come to your feeder, consider joining our efforts at Project Feeder Watch at”


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