One of my many roles at the Bird Barn is answering questions from customers. Sometimes the questions are about bird behavior or the products we sell. More often than not, the questions have to do with the numbers of birds people are NOT seeing.
Rarely does anyone question why they are seeing so many birds in their yard. The typical question is why they are not seeing as many birds this year as they had last year. For the last several months, many customers have come into the store with the same observation — they feel they are not seeing as many lesser goldfinches this year compared to previous years.
It is hard to know how to answer this question from one customer to another, as there are potentially many variables affecting bird numbers. While it is not uncommon for customers to mention that their bird numbers are down, at the same time, other customers come in and comment how they are being eaten out of house and home by all of the birds in their yard. Ironically, these opposing comments are often heard minutes apart throughout the day.
Why are some customers not seeing as many birds as they remember having in the past, while other customers feel that they have a lot of birds in their yard? It is not possible to have a ‘blanket’ answer to address their concerns.
One possible explanation for a shift in goldfinch numbers is the following. In the past, most folks used a nyjer feeder to attract lesser goldfinches. These days, a lot of our customers are feeding seed blends that contain sunflower chips. I think folks who are feeding a birdseed blend with sunflower chips are experiencing a lot of finch activity, just not on their finch (nyjer) feeder.
Another explanation has to do with natural food sources. For example, earlier this week I came home from work one evening, and I noticed a flock of lesser goldfinches feeding on an Apache plume plant in my yard. Finches also love Russian sage, and they feed at the wild thistle plants that are so abundant in this area.
Ultimately, survival for wild birds comes down to food — they have to find enough food every day to survive. If we get enough winter and spring rains, nature produces a bountiful crop of natural food sources for wild birds. Wild birds avail themselves of native food sources first, and then, if natural food sources are limited, and if they are stressed, they supplement what they find in nature by eating at feeders.
Bird populations are dynamic, changing from year to year and from season to season. Bird populations are never static, staying the same year after year. It is not reasonable to expect to have the same numbers of birds in your yard year after year. It just doesn’t happen that way.
They key is to enjoy the birds that do come to your yard. Keep your seed, suet, nectar and water sources fresh, and whether you are seeing a lot of birds or just a few, know that it will change. It always has, and it always will. So many factors influence the distribution and the number of birds from year to year.
On a different note, this past week I had a really nice experience where I was involved in the creation of a podcast that delved into my birding background — how my love of birds started, and how it grew and evolved over the years. If you would like to watch the podcast it can be accessed online at TheGreaterPrescottPodcast.com.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for more than 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.