For the birds: Missing birds—usually a temporary situation

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Yellow Warbler, Photo by Tony Varela

By Christine Southwick

Several people have asked “Where have their birds gone?”

Evening Grosbeak,
Photo by Christine Southwick
The last week of Aug thru the first couple of weeks of September adult birds that had successful broods are finally replacing their feathers -- a process called molting.

The energy to replace each-and-every feather each year is high; too high to take place while a bird is actively feeding four to six babies.

Right now many resident adults are currently missing important flight feathers.

Purple Finch, male by Christine Southwick

Therefore, many of these birds will stay under cover in bushes and trees to save energy and keep safe. 

These adults are mainly eating bugs and fruits in place.

So they are not being seen at most feeders.

This includes our local Anna’s Hummingbird. The juveniles, this year's new birds, will come to the feeders, but there will still be fewer birds at your feeders.

Additionally, some of the birds that are at your feeders are migrants -- like Evening Grosbeaks and Purple Finches. Some of them have already left, and most will soon.

Black headed Grosbeak
Photo by Christine Southwick

Consistently keeping your feeders stocked with good quality food will give long-distance migrants like Black-headed Grosbeaks going to Mexico and warblers, like Yellow Warblers going as far as South America a good start by supplying the protein-loading needed to survive their long-distance migration. 

Especially this year with all the forest fires, many rest stops and roosts may have been eliminated, making a strong start imperative.

So yes, there are less birds at your feeders right now, but the resident adults will be back in another week or two.

Additionally, the smoke made even more birds to hunker down, and our rain will help them return.

Keep food in your feeders, your resident adult birds will return.

[For the visually impaired: the Yellow Warbler at the top is a fat little yellow bird, firmly attached to a small branch. His head is thrown back and his beak is wide open. He is in full song. The Evening Grosbeak and the Black-headed Grosbeak are very similar. They have sturdy looking bodies with orange throat and chest shading to vanilla on their lower body. Seen from the front, the Black-Headed Grosbeak has a mostly black head with shades of orange and white. His wings and tail are black with splotches of white. The beak is light colored, very thick and bends down. The Evening Grosbeak has more distinct markings which we can see in profile. His long feathers are black and the feathers in the middle of his back are brilliant white. The Purple Finch is a mottled red-purple color. He has the same strong beak.]


Unknown September 19, 2020 at 3:20 PM  

I have been wondering why I haven’t heard as many birds, but, I thought it was due to the smokiness in the air. A friend even told me the birds near her home were keeping to the ground moving under bushes. Thanks for this article, it help understand what the birds have been up to.
Also, thanks for the detailed description of the birds.

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