Where have all the birds gone?

In late July and early August, robins head out to the swamps and woodland edges where there are new berries, poison ivy and other goodies to eat. (Courtesy photo)

In late July and early August, robins head out to the swamps and woodland edges where there are new berries, poison ivy and other goodies to eat. (Courtesy photo)

By BRIAN ALLEN
Special to the News Advocate

Thanks to Kathy McNeil for her question about where have all the birds gone recently.

This is something I have heard several times lately from late summer until now in early fall, and it is a good question.

In spring and early summer we grow accustomed to seeing the robins hunting for worms in our yard or in winter seeing the goldfinches and cardinals at the feeders but in fall unless you are fortunate, you may not see many birds around your home.

What’s happened? Have the birds migrated already? Are there just fewer birds now?

First lets look at robins. In spring robins return to their territory, that’s the key word, territory. They want an area with open grass, nesting trees and shelter so they can pair up, sing all morning long and look for worms and other food for their nestlings. They often raise two broods a year and are finished attending and feeding their young by mid to late July.

BRIAN ALLEN

BRIAN ALLEN

Have you ever noticed that birds (especially robins) don’t sing after mid July? Late July and early August is time to scoot, young birds and adults alike head out to the swamps and woodland edges where there are new berries to eat, goodies like poison ivy (a favorite) and dogwood, and pin-cherries.

It’s pretty difficult to find a robin in town or in your yard after they have headed out to their new late summer early fall haunts. This movement of the robins is a good strategy as often our lawns dry up with the heat of late summer.

Cardinals, goldfinches and grosbeaks often will abandon our feeders if they are up in summer. Why is that? All the good food there for free! The problem is that feeders are in one spot that is known to all including sharp-shinned hawks, and especially cats the deadly predators of birds.

In late summer and early fall the fields start producing loads of thistle and seeds (as well as the berries mentioned before). Given the choice of widely-scattered food in the wild were predators are less concentrated, it makes sense to get away from the dangerous feeders. In winter when food is scarce the birds will return, and hopefully those feeding the birds will provide good cover from predators and keep the cats indoors.

About half of all our resident birds do leave our area in mid to late September. It can be nice and warm (like this fall), and they still head out obeying the ques of the sun and the stars rather than the temperature.

I’m reading about our warblers, tanagers, orioles and hummingbirds already now down in Florida and Texas as I write this at the end of September. These are all the tropical migrants that can’t depend on our unstable fall weather. They will be back next May when the sunshine returns and the forests are full of caterpillars and insects again.

Fall is a great time to plant native shrubs and trees that will produce the food and shelter that our birds need for the coming year, and if we plant enough we may be fortunate to see them even in late summer and early fall.

 

Brian Allen has been watching birds and doing bird research for over 40 years. Readers can contact him at manisteebirder@gmail.com for more information or to send questions that could be answered in a column.

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