About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Where are my winter birds?

We live in a wooded area. Usually by this time (late November) we have lots of birds at our seed, thistle, and suet feeders: red-bellied, downy, and hairy woodpeckers, cardinals, bluejays, nuthatches, titmice, slate juncos, chickadees, goldfinches, etc. This fall we have only a few chickadees, titmice, downy woodpeckers, and juncos. We're using the same kind of seed as last year and haven't changed feeders. Do you have any ideas where the rest of our "regular customers" might be, especially the cardinals, bluejays, and red-bellied woodpeckers? ~ Ann Arbor, MI

If you remember, 2012 was a rotten year for fruit and nut trees. Birds were flocking to the feeders to supplement their diet. Canada’s natural seed crops were also horrible that year and a lot of birds that usually like to winter further north ventured south to Michigan to find food.

This year, 2013, will have no major bird irruptions. According to Ontario Field Ornithologist Ron Pittaway, the cone crops are excellent and extensive across much of the boreal forest and northeast Canada this year. That means there will be plenty of food for the winter finches, nuthatches and woodpeckers. So more birds will stay up north this winter.

It's estimated that only about 20% of a backyard bird's daily energy intake comes from feeders and because we haven’t had a lot of snowfall in Michigan, there still might be a lot of natural food sources available.

Other things to check if you don’t have birds at your feeders:

1. Make sure your seed is fresh. One way to do this crush your seed with a spoon on a piece of white paper and see if any oil comes out. On cold days where every meal counts, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

2. Take a closer look at your bird seed blend. All our blends are made of the stuff birds like to eat! We learned long ago the better the blend, the better your bird watching! Bargain bird seed may have inexpensive seeds like milo and wheat mixed in to bulk up the bag. However, in most regions these seeds are not eaten by bird feeder birds and is left to sprout or rot on the ground. We also stock all the non-blended bird seeds like WBU Premium Oil Sunflower, sunflower chips, safflower, Nyjer® (thistle), peanuts, and ear corn.

3. Make sure there is no mold in the bottom of your feeder. This can be dangerous to the birds and they will avoid your feeder again. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh™ (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using something like WBU Weather Guard.

4. Look for predators. Hawks or cats can deter birds from feeding in your area.

5. Check with local birding groups. Call your local Audubon or go in to a Wild Birds Unlimited to see if you are the only one reporting fewer birds.

You'll probably notice that the bird activity was very high at the feeders before the last storm and I think more birds will visit when the snow begins to fly.

Related articles:
- 2013-2014 Winter Finch Forecast: http://goo.gl/qtIQEc
- Feeder Fresh: Prevent your seed from becoming moldy http://bit.ly/vLY9jU
- Will the hawk eat all my birds? http://bit.ly/v3XkTF
- Millions of Birds Die Each Year at the Hands of Mr. Puddy Tat http://bit.ly/tG9cXO
- Can birds predict the weather? http://bit.ly/txkFqX