Where Do My Birds Go In Winter?

Or, Any Time of Year!

Anytime of year the birds in our backyards sometimes seem to disappear.

It may not be a usual time for migration, which makes us wonder what happened to them.

But changes happen all year and not just to the weather.

Their activities change constantly throughout the year, as their life cycle dictates.

The key word here though, is change!

When the weather begins to change, the birds respond, which usually means another cycle of their life will begin.

What Happens in the Shoulder Seasons?

Let's start with the summer season.

All summer birds have been busy building a home and raising their young.



When the fledglings leave the nest, they emulate their parents and begin to visit our feeders.

It is a great time for bird watching, with the increase of visitation that the young create at our feeders.

Our seed feeders and our Hummingbird feeders are very busy when the young birds are out and about.

Then it seems in a few weeks traffic at the feeders seems to slow down. Sometimes with a sudden drop and other times just a little less activity.

We always think of migration as taking place in spring and autumn months. But many birds have already left by mid summer.

The males of many species, like the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, have left by late summer. Some leave as early as July and many more following in August.

You may even notice the traffic at your feeders is diminishing during this time.

But as the autumn season arrives, things begin to change more noticeably.



The migrating birds are already on the move, gathering in large groups and passing through.

The adult females are starting their trek in early fall and any remaining males.

Then the youths who are hanging about, stocking up on food and figuring out what it is to be an adult bird, prepare to leave.

Some of the youths who hatched in early summer, may have moved to a new location at some point in the summer.

They are defining their independence and when they leave your feeding station, you will notice a change in activity at your feeders.

Eventually they will leave too, when they have stocked up on body fat and are strong enough to go.

This is the pattern for Hummingbirds, as well as many other songbirds. Although Hummingbirds do not group together to migrate, they make the trip individually.

What About the Birds Who are Not Migratory?

The birds who do not migrate will undergo a shift as well.

You may notice that you have fewer birds like Goldfinches and Chickadees at your feeders as the fall season progresses.

These species do not migrate on mass as Robins, Hummingbirds and Orioles do.

But many non-migratory birds will group together for the winter. Adults together, sometimes forming, male groups and female groups. The youths will gather and hangout together too. Sound familiar? ;)



And some will just move to a new location, perhaps where they perceive food sources and shelter may be more abundant.

These groups of birds will travel around in winter too. But when they discover a reliable feeding station that offers, oil rich food like, black-oil sunflower, suet, peanuts, they are more likely to stick around.

In the late spring and early summer you may also notice a reduced number of visitors to your feeders. This may be in part due to, adult birds establishing territory, building nests and taking turns sitting on the eggs.

Patience and keeping your backyard feeding area in tip top shape will pay out in the end.

(If you are wondering if you should be taking your feeders down in the autumn? You need to read this first.)


Read on for questions asked by visitors to this site?


Question 1. Where Do My Birds Go in Winter?

From Jill in Lakeland, MN

Where do my birds go in winter?

I have been improving my bird feeding area each year and I have been getting more birds each summer, but they still completely disappear each winter season.

Shouldn't this be the opposite?

I have a thistle sock, black sunflower seed and now a safflower feeder. I have homemade suet and a heated birdbath.

I have many huge red pines that are somewhat stick-like until the top and a variety of vegetation in our woods-like far backyard.

We have lots of grassy areas also.

I have been on the lookout for predators, but I don't see anything.

My mom has almost the same set up, and she is covered in birds! I live in an outer suburban ring area about a ½ mile (as the crow flies) from a large river that does have some open water.

Maybe they are going there?

I also live in Minnesota where it has been extremely cold, so I thought they would really need me this year.

Please give me some advice and thank you!

Jill




Question  2. How Do I Attract Birds To My Feeder?

From Anonymous

We just moved to a new house where the past owners did not feed birds. We've had seed and suet balls out for 2 months now and not one bird has come by... is it just a question of waiting or is there something we can do to encourage them?

From Monique Dundas, Ontario, Canada

I hung up a bird feeder at the beginning of November and I have never seen any birds using it yet. How do I attract birds to my feeder?

Where do my birds go in winter?


Do these questions sound familiar?

Hi Everyone

Where do my birds go in Winter?

Yes, I hear this question and many more like it, all the time!

It is frustrating especially when people traditionally only fed the birds in the winter thinking the wild birds did not need the help in summer.

So you would expect them to be frequent visitors in the winter.

After all the weather is cold requiring more energy to keep warm and food is far more difficult to find. Naturally one would think the birds would desperately need our offerings and come readily.

Let's talk about some of the reasons that prevent this expectation from becoming reality.

And also address why our feeders are sometimes ignored in the shoulder season.


7 Things to Consider When Birds Leave Your Feeders:


  • Are your feeders clean and full consistently.
  • Are your feeders out in the open or close enough to a tree which might provide a refuge in case of a predator? The birds will need some kind of cover, 5 to 10 feet from your feeder, to flee to in case of danger. The birds will also use this perching area to scan the area for danger first before they go to the feeder. 


  • Another reason for not having any birds could be related to your proximity to a large body of water or open field. Some birds of prey hunt near water and open areas where they can see their target better. There could be birds of prey hunting in the area scaring off the small songbirds. It becomes very necessary to provide a place for small birds to hide if there are birds of prey in the area.

 

  • One more reason to provide a place for the birds to shelter, is cold or severe weather. It is important for the birds to have a place to roost at night that is sheltered from the wind and where, their body heat can build up somewhat, to conserve heat and stay warm. They will also need this refuge during the day if the weather is very bad. You could put out a roosting box for your small song birds to spend the night. If shelter is available close by then they will have one more reason to stay near to your feeders.

 

  • Not having wild birds at your feeders could also be because there are no other feeding stations in the area. Wild birds are foragers and like to move from one source of food to another. If you live in an area where other households are feeding the birds too, then the birds will travel through, feeding from one station to another. If you do not have neighbours nearby, then your birds would have to travel further to find another feeding location. To rectify this problem, it may be helpful if you set up one feeding area in your front yard and one in your backyard providing two feeding stations. Of course they use natural feeding spots too, but by providing a couple of feeding spots, yourself will help to draw them close.
  • You will also need to look at the quality of the seed you are using. Because a wild bird’s energy reserve is crucial in the winter, they will not hang around a feeding station, where they find undeveloped or tiny seed inside, when the shells are cracked open. They cannot afford to spend their daylight hours and energy reserves consuming poor quality food. They will move on to locate a source that provides the energy they require.

Wild Birds Are Not Fond Of Some Changes

Another question to ask yourself is...

  • Have you made any significant changes to your yard as the season changes? Wild birds are creatures of habit and will be cautious to come to a yard that has changed. This will be true any time of year. Make changes slowly to your yard. If you want to place something close to your feeding area, do it in increments so the birds have time to become accustomed to the object.
  • Above all, be persistent, don’t give up! Your winter birds may likely be entirely different from the ones who hang out in your yard in the summer. They will likely be from farther north and decide that your yard looks like a good place to stay for the winter. It may even take some time before you will attract and keep a group of birds for each season. But once they feel secure about their location in your yard, you won't be asking again: 

Where do my birds go in winter? Or any time of year!

Don’t give up!

Hope this helps!

Judy





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Bird Feeding Through The Seasons

  • Spring Bird Feeding An exciting time when wild birds return to their northern breeding grounds after their long migration.
  • Summer Bird Feeding A very rewarding season to feed and house wild birds. There is such a variety of bird life and feathered family activity to enjoy.
  • Autumn Bird Feeding Some people think that bird feeding in the autumn is not a good idea. They mistakenly believe that their feeders will keep the birds from migrating. Find out the truth.
  • Winter Bird Feeding Bird watching in the winter months provides many rewards for us. We can’t help ourselves from wanting to assist them by putting out a bird feeder.


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