Rachel Carson’s landmark work ‘Silent Spring’ in 1962 brought to light the dramatic impact of pesticides on wild bird populations. So far this fall, the Arizona Central Highlands area has been experiencing what some might call a ‘Silent Fall’.
However, the reason for the absence of birds this fall is quite different from the issues presented in ‘Silent Spring’. Not only is the cause different, it is actually the result of a good thing that has resulted in fewer birds at backyard bird feeders. It is a consequence of our amazing summer monsoon rains.
This year we have seen a tremendous shift in bird feeding habits. Earlier in the year we experienced one of the driest winters on record—less than two inches of precipitation was recorded in areas around Yavapai County from the first of the year up to the first of July.
Naturally occurring food sources for wildlife were scarce, to say the least. The most dramatic evidence of this was the sheer volume of birds frequenting backyard bird feeding stations in the spring and early summer months. Homeowners were consistently telling us here at Jay’s Bird Barn how they were getting eaten out of house and home by the birds.
Needless to say, the extreme drought conditions boosted our seed sales—bags of bird seed were flying out of the store (no pun intended) at a rate we had never before experienced. And then the monsoons came.
At our home, off of Rosser Street, we recorded over twelve inches of rain during the monsoon season. For this area, that is an unheard of amount of rain in a nine or ten week period. We went from extreme drought conditions prior to July 1st, to higher than average monsoon rainfall totals by September 1st.
The abundance of rain triggered a predicted response by resilient Mother Nature—weeds and wildflowers flourished, producing a profusion of naturally occurring food sources for our feathered friends. As I spent time hiking in the Prescott area in August and September, I was amazed by the amount of forage available to all of the wildlife in this area.
We went from one extreme to another—very little natural food sources in the spring, to an abundance in the fall. Right now, seed-eating birds are not stressed and they are not nearly as dependent on human-provided food sources as they are in drought years.
Many homeowners provide us feedback on a daily basis about the bird activity they are experiencing in their yard. The overwhelming comment we have been hearing the last two months is actually not so much a comment as it is a question—“Where are the birds?” Fortunately, there is no cause for alarm.
It is not like there has been a massive die-off. Our usual fall and winter birds are here—the white-crowned sparrows, the dark-eyed juncos, and our permanent year-round residents like mourning doves and house finches. However, the birds are just doing what wild birds have been doing for millennia—they are feeding on nature’s bounty.
Will the birds come back to your feeders? Yes, when there is a need. But for now, there is plenty of food out there to meet their needs. I can guarantee you, when we get a good winter storm, with several inches of snow burying natural food sources, the birds will be at your feeders—hastily and hurriedly eating as much as they can to maintain their metabolism.
My suggestion in the meantime is to keep providing water, fresh seed and suet so there will be a reliable food source available to them when the need arises.
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 over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at email@example.com.