Every year about this time I get questions about the sudden lack of birds visiting backyard feeders. It seems birds abruptly desert the free offerings of seed and suet that hosts provide.
If you have noticed this change in behavior, don’t worry. Various fruits and seeds are maturing right now and should provide a natural bounty to allow wildlife to prepare for the winter months ahead. Thanks to the copious rainfall throughout the growing season, I suspect this year’s supply will be a real bumper crop. Once this natural food is exhausted the birds will return to feeders, but it may take a few months to return to the numbers you are used to.
Illustrating how well seed-bearing trees performed this year is the Annual Winter Finch Report that was released this week. This is an informal projection based mostly on cone-bearing seed production in the Canadian boreal forests that predicts the likelihood that winter finches such as pine siskins, purple finches and evening grosbeaks will move south each winter.
The pines, spruce, and fir trees have had a good production year, so it is expected that those finch species will stay more to our north this fall and winter. Last year saw huge numbers of pine siskins and purple finches come into the Southeast. It doesn’t look like that will happen this year.
But there are loads of neotropical migrants moving through right now. Some birders, not content with the field opportunities during the day, monitor the nighttime movements of these neotropicals (warblers, vireos, thrushes, grosbeaks, sparrows and others) by listening for flight calls after dusk and before dawn.
You can do this, too. Pick a calm morning immediately after the passage of a cold front and step outside around 5:30 a.m. You should hear a variety of chips, cheeps and chirps. You may not be able to identify the vocalists, but it will give you an idea of the massive nocturnal movement of birds through our area during the migration.
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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