I have recently been thinking how ironic it is that some of our ‘winter’ birds will be back in Prescott next month. Our recent spell of hot, dry weather makes fall seem so far away, even though it is just next month.
Our unseasonably hot daytime temperatures and the lack of monsoon rains is affecting wildlife now, and will certainly have an impact into the winter months if we don’t get sufficient rains very soon.
The monsoon season officially begins each year on June 15 and runs through Sept. 30. This means we are almost two months into monsoon season with very little rain. At our home here in Prescott, we’ve only had one really good storm, on Friday, July 24, when we received 1.35 inches of precipitation.
In a more typical year, our summer rains fuel the growth of annuals that grow rapidly due to warm summer days and abundant rains. If these plants get started early enough in July, they have time to go through their life cycle and produce seeds that birds will consumer in winter. A summer without these plants means there will be fewer natural seed sources available to birds in the coming winter months.
When weather patterns are different than the ‘norm,’ birds adjust by migrating outside of their ‘normal’ range as they look for areas with sufficient food to sustain them through the winter. These years are called irruptive years. Another adaptation for survival is a greater reliance on human-provided food sources—seed, suet, nut cakes, etc.
The lack of adequate monsoon rains can have more immediate consequences, as well. For example, recently we have been inundated with phone calls from customers concerning honey bees on their hummingbird feeders. While this is not an unusual problem, the number of calls we have received is an indication that bees are having a hard time finding enough natural sources of food and water to sustain their hive.
I feel our lack of rain this summer has reduced the number of wildflowers that bees would typically be visiting. Fewer flowers means their scouts are working hard to find alternate food sources — and lo and behold, a feeder full of sugar water is too tempting to pass up during this hot dry spell.
On my recent trip to Utah, I enjoyed spending time with my son, Travis Jay. One of Travis’ new hobbies is beekeeping. During my visit, he did a full hive inspection, and I assisted. Fortunately, I’m neither afraid of nor allergic to bees, so without any protective clothing, we conducted the inspection. Travis took each frame out of the boxes, and at one point asked me to hold a frame that was covered with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of bees while he adjusted the placement of other frames. I readily admit I don’t know a lot about bees, but I am fascinated by them and I enjoyed having that experience.
Other comments we have been hearing here at the Bird Barn have to do with both hummingbird and goldfinch numbers. Our customers are reporting a recent uptick in both goldfinches and hummingbirds, and this is certainly reflected in nyjer seed and hummingbird supply sales.
In my yard, I have recently experienced an influx of phainopeplas. I probably have about a dozen in my yard — all day — taking advantage of the many berry-producing shrubs that I planted years ago. My elderberry, choke cherry and Oregon grape plants are loaded with berries this year.
I hope you are enjoying a lot of bird activity in your yard. Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona — Prescott and Flag-staff. 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.