Column: Birds by the numbers
There are two comments we hear over and over each day here at the Bird Barn, and they are exact opposites of one another. The first goes something like this, "The birds are eating me out of house and home!" The second comment is, "I don't have as many goldfinches (or hummingbirds, or baby quail) as last year."
It is interesting how one customer will be crowing about all of the birds he is enjoying in his yard while the very next customer through the door will be lamenting about lower bird numbers.
One thought to keep in mind is the dynamic nature of bird populations. It is unrealistic to expect that you will have the same number of birds at your feeders year after year. Fluctuation in bird numbers from year to year is natural and normal-both in terms of overall numbers, as well as distribution of where birds occur. One year you might have a lot of lesser goldfinches or hummingbirds, and the next you might have only a few or perhaps none at all.
What are some of the things that affect the population and distribution of birds? Weather is certainly a big factor. During years where we get abundant rains, nature produces a bounty of flowers and seeds creating a situation where wild birds are not as dependent on human-provided food sources. Another factor could be the presence of predators. For example, if you have a Cooper's hawk making forays into your yard, you may notice less bird activity.
Other possibilities include the happenings in your neighborhood. Are there any new homes under construction? Has there been any drastic change in the habitat adjacent to your home, such as tree and brush removal? Or, do you have new neighbors that have put out finch, suet, seed and nectar feeders? Perhaps you are unknowingly competing for the birds that occur in your neighborhood with neighbors who are also feeding.
Another thing to consider is the freshness of your seed and the cleanliness of your feeders-especially now that we are experiencing monsoon rains. If the seed is old, it could be rancid and should be replaced. If the seed gets wet, it might be clumped together and could possibly start growing mold. Cleaning your feeders frequently and using fresh seed will result in more bird activity in your yard. This is especially true of finch feeders-they can easily be clogged by debris that comes in the seed bags.
The cyclical nature of bird populations results in a dynamic, constantly changing scene. This is particularly true right now when many bird species are successfully rearing young who are now joining their parents at your feeders. From now until fall migration, you should notice a steady increase in bird activity in your yard.
And, as it gets closer to the time when our migratory songbirds begin to prepare for migration by 'tanking up' and building their fat reserves, you will witness even more bird activity in your yard. Right now, I'm filling my finch feeder daily, and I'm going through several suet cakes each week.
When seed-eating birds are rearing young, they switch their diet from seeds to insects, as this is what they feed their babies. However, as fledglings leave the nest, they gradually get weaned off a strict insect diet and gradually shift to a diet high in seeds-this is another reason for an increase in activity at seed feeders. All of those baby birds out of the nest are bellying up to the birdy buffet!
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn with two locations in northern Arizona - 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott, and 2360 State Highway 89A in Sedona. Eric has been an avid birder for 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org