I have been getting a few questions from concerned readers about a dearth of birds currently patronizing feeders. This concern arises once or twice a year and is worth addressing right now. There can be several explanations or a combination of several factors.
Keep in mind this is migration time. Birds are moving. The American goldfinches at your feeders in summer may very well give way to northern birds in the fall. Everything shifts south. The same may be true for pine warblers, Eastern bluebirds, brown thrashers and some others. The northern birds may not have arrived just yet, but they will.
Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, Northern cardinals, Carolina wrens, brown-headed nuthatches, downy woodpeckers and red-bellied woodpeckers do not migrate, so the plausible explanation for their absence is there is a lot of natural food available to them right now. Berries are ripening, summer-blooming flowers have gone to seed, and there are multitudes of tiny spiders and other small invertebrates on foliage and abundant blooming asters. If the plants have produced a bumper crop of berries and seeds and conditions stay right to prolong the invertebrates’ lives, the birds will stay afield longer before returning to feeders.
Species that I refer to as winter residents haven’t even arrived yet. White-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, ruby-crowned kinglets, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, chipping sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers will arrive any day now. A few early individuals may already be here. By November they will be a conspicuous part of most backyards’ avifauna.
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Bottom line: Be patient and enjoy the anticipation. Return they will, I guarantee it. Keep the feeders stocked with a dry, fresh, diverse offering of seeds and add a suet dough cake to spice things up.
Away from your feeders, you may notice periodic increases in bird numbers that correspond to changes in air masses that enter our area. The increased numbers may only last a day or so and will be most pronounced when cool fronts usher in air. Fall migrants ride the northerly winds at night and at daybreak descend to feed wherever there is greenery. The mornings after a front’s passage can be alive with warblers, vireos and tanagers zipping through the trees and shrubs.
It’s the best time to look for rarities too, as evidenced by last week’s discovery of a dickcissel and a clay-colored sparrow at Clark’s Creek Nature Preserve, both local rarities.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont. PiephoffT@aol.com.