It is that time of the year again, when a combination of factors can cause a decreased detection of birds, especially at bird feeders. Some years this is more noticeable than others, and based on the number of phone calls and messages we’ve been getting recently, there are a lot of people asking “where are the birds?” I’ve written about this phenomenon a few times over the years, like in 2017 when the phone was literally off the hook here, so you can read that post here (note the late September date): Where are the birds?! (2017) but I’ll address a few recent events here:
First, let’s keep in mind that fall migration is peaking right now, and many birds are leaving Maine. From Red-winged Blackbirds to Yellow Warblers, many of the birds that have been in our yards and visiting our bird feeders for the last few months are heading to their wintering grounds in large numbers. Just last night (evening of 20 Sep) BirdCast detected 11 MILLION birds passing over Maine! It is worth acknowledging that even some of the species we don’t think of as migratory, since we see them in our backyards throughout the year, do actually undertake some, albeit short, migrations. Blue Jays are a great example of this: the ones at your feeder in June may be completely different from the ones you see in December. Sometimes we see an exodus of jays, much like in the winter of 2018/19, which you can read about in this Where are the birds?!? (2018/19) post. Keep an eye on BirdCast.info for more forecasts and results of this fall’s migration.
Tropical Storm Lee (and bias)
We need to admit that there was some overhyped hysteria ahead of Tropical Storm Lee last week. A viral video that showed tired migrating birds attracted to the light of a fishing boat and landing on a lobsterman’s head had the birds’ behavior incorrectly attributed to the incoming storm. I suspect this caused a “recency illusion” for many people, where after the [false] threat of the storm was pointed out, people then started looking for the impacts from the storm, blaming the lack of birds at feeders on the passage of the storm.
Below is a composite image from the two radar stations in Maine, taken in the evening as Tropical Storm Lee moved into the Gulf of Maine. You can see the ominous blob of rain sitting southwest off the coast—the leading edge of Lee, as well as the ‘orbs’ over the two radar stations—thousands of southbound birds.
Overall, the storm had very little effect on our birds. Some birders become storm-chasers with the hope that a hurricane will bring tropical birds to our region; you’ve probably heard about the flamingos brought north with Hurricane Idalia. The hurricane slowed to a tropical storm, probably allowing most of the ‘targets’ to escape before the storm made landfall, but you can see a summary of storm-blown birds here: birdcast.info/news/hurricane-lee/
Another major reason you are seeing fewer birds at feeders is because there is better food almost everywhere right now. Lots of plants, especially wildflowers, are going to seed or forming fruit right now and birds are going to be targeting those high quality food sources.
Of course you can keep birds in your yard even when they aren’t at your feeder by providing them with the native plants they need. Check out our Native Plant Finder to learn about the plants you can use to attract and help birds, and how to order them, at: mainenativeplants.org/
They’re out there!
You can always join us on a Thursday morning bird walk at Gilsland Farm, or one of our Fall Bird Walk series at Fields Pond, if you want to come see all the birds that are out there! You can find all of our walks here > .