For two weeks I have been inundated with questions. About half the messages are from folks lamenting the sudden and alarming drop in numbers of birds visiting feeders. The others are overjoyed with the arrival of some striking feeder birds that many have never seen.
This is a very active time for birds. Throughout North America, they are moving into their breeding grounds. Many birds that have been visiting feeders during previous months have likely moved on to points north. Most sparrows and finches fall into this group, especially pine siskins, which has been extremely common this past winter. Yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets and some pine warblers that you might have been seeing at suet cakes may have moved north, too. They won’t be back until late fall.
Another reason for reduced feeder activity is that the remaining breeding species are feeding chicks right now. Chicks need protein in the form of soft-bodied insects and other invertebrates. Seeds don’t cut it right now. There is also an increased amount of natural food available. You don’t necessarily need to quit feeding, but you should accept the fact that birds will not visit feeders as regularly as in the winter.
Conversely, many feeder watchers have been thrilled to see some gaudy and striking migrants munching on offerings of sunflower seeds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks arrived in a wave within the past 10 days. These boldly marked black-and-white birds with a triangular rose patch on the breast are just passing through. They don’t nest here in the Piedmont, so enjoy them for the brief time they stay with us. They will be back in the fall but will be absent their spring colors.
I have also received a few reports of indigo buntings at feeders. This spectacular deep-blue bird does nest here and could visit through the summer if you live in an appropriate habitat, such as near a local greenway with open areas and forested edges. If you choose to feed through the summer, you may be surprised by the species you will attract.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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