Winter arrived with a vengeance here. Suddenly we had lots of snow on the ground and temperatures that stayed below freezing during the day and hovered around zero at night. The bird feeders were full of mixed seed, thistle seed, black oil sunflower seeds and big chunks of beautiful white suet. We had the snow, the cold temperatures and the feeders all ready to go… what we didn’t have were the birds.
Instead of dozens and dozens of chickadees flying in and out of the feeders, we now saw only three. There were five or six woodpeckers, four bluejays and eleven mourning doves… and yes, mourning doves will eat from an elevated feeder. Despite a heavy snowfall over two days, there were no other birds around.
The Audubon Society and several other local bird information sources insisted that nothing was wrong… that because of the warmer than usual fall weather and the unusually abundant sources of natural food… the birds were still finding plenty to eat in the wild. Another explanation they gave was that bird populations naturally fluctuate from year to year and that a feeder that is really “busy” one year may have few birds the next.
This is all true, but we have been feeding birds here for many, many years and it was obvious that there was something very different happening (or not happening). We had had the normal number of birds the previous winter and into spring and early summer. I think it was in July when we first noticed that there weren’t as many birds around as usual. We keep one feeder filled all summer, and we usually have baby birds perched on or around it with the parent birds feeding their babies from the feeder. I love watching them, and their screeching is hard to overlook, so I know for sure that there were no baby birds being fed at this feeder. We also didn’t see the usual number of baby robins.
I wonder… was it just too cold and wet for the summer’s baby birds to survive? Did the organized spraying campaigns kill the birds as well as the massive caterpillar population? Or did the birds just go somewhere else looking for better weather?