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, January 29, 2011

Where are the birds? vs. They’re eating me out of house and home!

Is there some environmental problem or something? I haven’t seen the swarms of birds that I usually see this year in Portland, MI

I can’t keep the feeders full! What does Wild Birds Unlimited put in their seed to make all these birds flock to the feeders? Lansing, MI

It’s funny I received both questions in the same week. The easy answer is location, weather, and natural resources available.

So why are you seeing fewer birds? I found nothing in the Michigan DNRE press releases about any poisonings, pollution, or diseases that would explain a drop in bird populations. 

Your question is exactly the reason everyone should participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The data collected can be invaluable. Based on the old reports, I can tell you that a couple years ago we had a huge influx of birds from Canada and the UP looking for food in our area. However this year we've had no major bird irruptions. And if you compare the weather to past years we’ve also seen less snow. It's estimated that only about 20% of a backyard bird's daily energy intake comes from feeders. Birds prefer to forage for their food and because we haven’t had a lot of snowfall in mid-Michigan, there still might be a lot of natural food sources available. Maybe you’ve seen fewer deer too.

You can also go through a little check list to eliminate the most obvious reasons for fewer birds at the feeders.

1. Make sure your seed is fresh. One way to do this is to pinch the seed with your fingernails 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. 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 to see if you are the only one reporting fewer birds.

Now on the other side, why are some people seeing more birds at the feeder than usual? It could be a switch in seed. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing do sell the very best regionally formulated blends to attract the best birds. A seed blend with black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts is great to offer in the winter. It has a high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. At Wild Birds Unlimited that would be our most popular WBU No-Mess Blend or WBU Choice blend.

Suet or seed blocks are also great foods to offer many of the birds that will visit backyards in the winter. Suet is a high energy, pure fat substance which is invaluable in winter when insects are harder to find and birds need many more calories to keep their bodies warm. I would recommend our peanut butter suet.

It’s also possible that they are running out of natural sources where you live and found your feeders to be a critical source of food that enables them to survive from day to day. The worse the weather the more the birds depend on feeders. When it’s especially bad outside, seed eating birds flock to feeders no matter where you live to build up their energy reserves.

Thank you for your questions.

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