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Where Are All The Birds?
November 17, 2014
Winter's slumber is a few weeks early this year.
Record setting cold temperatures.
Record setting snow amounts (for this time of year), have blanketed many regions.
Here in Michigan, snow is measured in feet (1 meter plus) in some parts of the state.
Thankfully, only inches on me.
All of the fall chores have been taken care of.
That includes a cord of wood stacked for the fireplace.
At the bottom of this letter are a couple pictures of what Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) do to our native Ash Trees within a few short years.
EAB can now be found in 24 states, as far west as Colorado, and the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
What makes the this non-native borer so lethal?
While native borers travel mostly vertical, EAB feeds and travels mostly horizontal.
This destroys the cambium, and stops the flow of life giving juices from the roots to the rest of the tree, and visa, versa.
Schedules are slowly settling down around here.
Just in time for the hurried pace of the holiday season.
How I wish it wasn't so busy.
(Pictured, a Great Blue Heron, resting in some brush near the pond.)
My prayers continue for all of you (daily).
Especially for the many that share their needs and concerns with me.
For the past couple of months, I continue to be asked this question.
"Where are all of my birds?"
I hope to address this today.
Where Are All of My Birds?
Where have they gone?
Research shows that birds choose to feed in the wild 75% of the time.
(Great Blue Heron resting near the pond.)
Foraging over free food.
In late summer, through late autumn, Nature's bounty rules.
Seeds, berries and fruits, acorns and nuts, are plentiful.
Insect larvae, and eggs are highly sought after.
Here is where you will find your birds.
When your feeders aren't visited, you will find them in their preferred habitat and food sources.
And when the birds do visit your feeders, there is a good chance it isn't the same pair every time.
Cornell suggests to multiply that pair of Cardinals or other birds you see by 6.
Meaning there may be 6 pair of cardinals visiting your feeders at different times leading us to think it is the same pair living at our feeders.
So it isn't the same batch of birds we see feeding all day long?
There are a few other thoughts.
When birds molt, it may cause some species to stay close to natural areas for protection.
Cardinals are known to be a bit bashful during molt.
When birds molt, it slows them down for that split second that can mean life or death.
Some adult birds change from breeding colors to a more drab, winter color.
Other species of birds molt into a fresh suit of shiny, and new feathers.
Still, there are many juveniles that are changing into young adult colors.
With so many different birds, there is some species molting year round.
The Late spring, meant some late nests, which also equates to some later molts.
This was noticeable this year.
Another Example Might Be:
Days of heavy rain, or a winter storm, the birds hunker down.
This may be for several hours.
They find a place for protection, fluff up their feathers and take a snooze.
You will will always know when a storm is coming if you watch the birds.
They will go on a feeding frenzy and then head for the hills.
A lack of natural food and weather can also be a factor on your birds.
Though not really migratory birds, Goldfinches and Jays will migrate short distances in search of food.
Almost nomad like.
Usually in the 25 to 50 mile range.
Though a banded American goldfinch from Ontario did find its way to the Gulf coast a several years back.
Waxwings are true nomads this time of year.
You may be without these birds for a week or so and then birds appear again.
Often these birds have come from another location a bit further North.
The Varied thrush you may have in your yard in the Pacific Northwest often migrates short distances because of weather and returns when the weather is more favorable.
Different Species Prefer Different Habitats:
It is up to you to understand what they need and go from there.
There are ground scratchers, ground foragers, insect eaters.
Some birds like goldfinches are almost strictly seed eaters.
Others species that may spend the winter with you are omnivores.
They can eat insects and small invertebrates, they feed on fruits and berries, small nuts, and all sorts of seeds.
Offer winter food at different feeding stations.
Scatter on the ground.
Platform feeders and hoppers offer food to the greatest variety of birds.
Tubes and specialty feeders are attractive for smaller birds, woodpeckers, and may deter squirrels, starlings and other pests.
About the only thing you can do to encourage your birds to stay in your yard is to offer what they want and need.
Offering food is only one part of the equation.
You really need to offer habitat.
Do you offer water or is there a source nearby?
That means knowing and understanding what birds in your area like.
Is it tall trees, or native grasses and flowers?
What about understory plantings like small trees and shrubs.
Offer a soft edge where you have plenty of flowers and ground cover.
I never have a shortage of American goldfinches, yet they aren't always the same birds, or the same number.
Dark-eyed juncos are plentiful right now.
Mourning doves greet us everyday as well.
Yet, I can walk into the fields and chase up numbers to many to count.
The dominant pair of cardinals will visit regularly, and the wretched House sparrows never leave.
Only when the snow flies, and natural foods are more difficult to find, will several pair visit at the same time.
This is the case for Blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, and other birds.
It doesn't always make sense that our feathered friends would turn down a free meal.
(Be sure to keep your seed fresh.)
It does make sense that birds do what is only natural for them, to forage in their ever dwindling wild habitat.
Don't worry, even if your birds disappear for a time, they will return.
Birds are territorial and return to the same breeding area and always remember a good source of food and habitat.
As long as there is enough surrounding habitat, birds will hang around.
As habitat shrinks, birds will move and in some cases, they stop breeding.
It is up to us to continue 'Gardening For Wildlife'.
After all, the birds need us almost as much as we need them.
It is easy to point a finger at hawks and cats as a reason for your lack of birds on a given day or days.
(I know, I deal with both issues.)
While this may be true from time to time, (as cats are a big problem around here).
Hawks are part of nature and you are still feeding the birds (sorta).
You will know if one or the other is present, but don't be so fast to pass the blame completely on them for a whole day, or days.
Your habitat and offerings are very much a large factor in what you do, or don't attract.
One last thing.
The closer you live to a bird's natural surroundings, the more likely it is that you will see, and have more birds.
Think like a bird.
I hope this gives you another outlook on the world of birds.
Well, it is time to fly for now.
Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.
"Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it's not going to go away."
The king knew a few things about life.
"The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever."
" In him you also, when you heard the word of truth,
"Treat the earth well:
It was not given to you by your parents,
It was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our
Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
Ancient Indian Proverb
Your friend indeed,
Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.
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