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Our editor, Anne Willard, recently mentioned to me that she had seen concern expressed about the apparent lack of small birds in the a region via the online Upper Delaware network. People were worried because birds were not visiting their feeders, and they were not hearing many birds calling in the woods as they had earlier. These are all valid concerns where climate change and other factors have started to cause subtle changes in phenology (when specific species first appear, when they breed, etc.).
To understand why birds are not coming to feeders, a look at the habitat as a whole must be undertaken. This past month has been among one of the mildest on record, and there is still bountiful food out in the wild for most species: bushes and trees are full of ripe berries and mast. This causes birds to be more dispersed throughout habitat rather than coming to feeders as they do when food is harder to find in the wild.
Another factor is that with the changing of the seasons, there is also a “change of watch”; species seen during the summer may have migrated south and are being replaced by winter species. Tree swallows and wood thrushes are replaced by pine siskins and white-throated sparrows. Sometimes, the “relief of the watch” doesn’t show up on time, and there is a bit of what seems like a birdless period.
The birds are around this time of year; you just have to look a little harder. Because breeding season is over and done with, birds aren’t going to vocalize much. Check out favorable habitat such as wetlands and harvested fields. Any place with a lot of seeds and berries is a good bet. In the past month, flocks of robins and cedar waxwings have been seen in flight, on the ground or in trees. Yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets have been seen in the area, and dark-eyed juncos are making an appearance.
For folks that have feeders, there are things you that can make feeders more enticing to birds. Just like bread, seed can get old and stale. Keep feeders partially full during periods of few birds, and it will make it easier to keep the seed fresh in the feeders. Don’t get discouraged if there is little or no activity for a time.
For more hints about attracting birds to the feeder, take a look at “The Zen Birdfeeder” at https://tinyurl.com/ydz8f34a.