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Gardening For Wildlife #44, Where Did My birds Go?
November 26, 2007

A wonderful new week to you.

I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving is just a turkey carcass, uh, I mean a memory.

Let me take amoment to welcome all the new readers.

As you can see, Keet enjoyed her turkey day.

After a relaxing weekend..................

Let the madness begin.

That's right.

Shopping, decorating, shopping, baking.....................

Did I mention shopping?

Please don't go broke enjoying the season and take some time to remember the reason for the season.

We had our first measurable snow fall (less than an inch) Thanksgiving morning.

A thin layer of ice has covers much of the pond these past few days.

Winter can't happen yet, there are still some leaves in some of the trees. Oh well, nature waits for no man or in this case, leaf to fall.

Some Canada geese and mallard ducks are still hanging around and will until the local ponds freeze over completely.

For protection, water fowl sleep in the open waters.

Now there is a prime example on how water tight and insulating down feathers are.

Sometimes, its about the the right place at the right time.

Because I'm outside so much, I see bird activity more often than most.

This past Friday I happened to hear and then see this massive flock of snow geese fly over going in an East/Southeast direction.

Snow geese have a higher pitched honk than Canada geese.

A few Robins still linger and indeed may spend the winter here.

Cardinals are coming more often during the day to my yard and feeders once again. as winter wears on, the red birds will be frequent visitors.

I'm pretty close to having a second Nuthatch feed from my hand. She gets close, I need to be patient.

Say, do you ever wonder what birds do when they aren't in your yard and at your feeders?

Especially this time of year when days grow short and feeding time is at a premium.

Come with me as we explore a few things.

Last week Wednesday, Akita (Keet) and I took a daytime walk into the nearby field.

When we left for our walk, there was plenty of bird activity in and around my feeders

Now I know I have Goldfinches year round, that's never an issue.

Juncos are plentiful under the shrubs where I toss the scratch food and a few few chickadees seem to be present at all times.

However, the more we walked, the more birds we chased from their feeding frenzy.

Fall aster and goldenrod are full of downy seed heads.

Other weeds and plants are full of seeds and if the temperature would've been a bit warmer, there may have been some flying insects.

Goldfinches took to flight as we followed a well traveled deer run.

Scores of Goldfinches.

More than a person would typically see at any one time.

The air was filled with peeps and cheeps and the familiar undulating flight familiar to finches.

We continued our walk through the tall dead weeds.

Up a short hill and past some trees near woods edge.

For a short period, we were followed by at least six Black capped chickadees as they chicka-dee-dee-dee-deed all around Keet and me.

We walked into a low grass open area surrounded by small trees and native shrubs.

A good sized flock of Dark-eyed Juncos scrambled for cover.

This is a sample of what is in the natural habitats.

Research shows that birds choose to feed in the wild 75% of the time.

So it isn't the same batch of birds we see feeding all day long?

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.

When your feeders aren't visited, more than likely, the birds are busy feeding in their preferred habitat and food sources.

There are a few other thoughts.

When birds molt, it may cause some species to stay close to natural areas for protection.

When birds molt, it slows them down for that split second that can mean life or death.

Another example is:

During a heavy rain, birds hunker down. This may be for several hours.

They find a place for protection, fluff up their feathers and take a snooze.

The same applies during a heavy snow storm and often during extreme heat birds will slow down.

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 few years back.

Waxwings are true nomads this time of year.

You may be with out 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.

Yes, a lengthy spell of extreme weather conditions can force birds to move and sometimes starve.

So can a lack of natural food ( often weather related).

Right now there is an influx of Red-breasted nuthatches.

Typically a more Northern bird, these little nuthatches migrate from Canada and the northern states in the search for food.

Usually when the pine cone crop is weak.

This is known as irruption and happens every three to four years.

Pine siskens, Red polls and others are also irruption birds.

You may see plenty of them one year and maybe a few or none the next year.

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 thing.

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?

What about understory plantings like small trees and shrubs.

Offer a soft edge where you have plenty of flowers and ground cover.

Different species prefer different habitats and it is up to you to understand what they need and go from there.

I never have a shortage of American goldfinches, yet they aren't always the same birds.

For the past two winters, I have one in particular that winter molt gives him a white cap on his head.

Now he is easy to spot, but I don't see him that often.


He is elsewhere feeding and doing what Goldfinches do the rest of the time.

It doesn't always make sense that our feathered friends would turn down a free meal.

It does make sense that birds do what is only natural for them, to forage in the ever dwindling wild.

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 our gardening for wildlife.

After all, the birds need us almost as much as we need them.

A side bar:

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.

While this may be true from time to time, as cats are a big problem

Hawks are part of nature and you are still feeding the birds :-)

You will know if one or the other is present, but don't be so fast to pass the blame.

One last thing.

The closer you live to a birds natural surroundings, the more likely it is that you will see and have more birds, more often.


I hope this gave you another outlook on the world of birds.

Think like a bird.

With the Christmas season upon us, don't forget the needy.

Show off your special smiles as well.

You know, a smile can go a long way.

The best part is..........................

IT'S FREE and feels so good.

Until next time my friend,

"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,

Ron Patterson

PS: Feel free to forward this to friends and family or send them to so they can register to recieve their free copies.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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