Where are my chickadees?

Posted on January 3, 2018

The latest update on birds at our feeders.

Many people reported that birds disappeared from their feeders in the fall but finally began returning as the weather got cold. We do not always know why there are fewer birds at feeders in a given year but there are a number of factors that could account for it. This fall there were exceptionally good natural food crops of berries, seeds, nuts, and cones. The birds took advantage of this natural bounty and, combined with the mild fall weather, spent more time in the woods, often ignoring feeders entirely.

Black-capped Chickadee, by Rebecca Suomala.

Woodpeckers seemed to be the first to return followed gradually by other species. Christmas Bird Count data are beginning to come in and first indications are that the number of most feeder birds is average with one exception – Black-capped Chickadee. This is one of our most common feeder birds so its absence is especially noticeable.

So where are all the chickadees? We don’t know of any mortality event that would have reduced the population, and the timing of their initial disappearance in the fall indicates two possibilities:

  • the chickadees in Canada never came south to New Hampshire because of good food supplies to the north;
  • chickadees left the state in the fall for points south.

Keep in mind that some birds we think of as year-round residents, including chickadees, Blue Jays, and House Finch, migrate in some years. Occasionally, they move south in response to food supplies or weather cues we can’t detect. The birds you see in summer may not be the same individuals you see in winter. Some species, such as American Goldfinch, are nomadic, following food sources over a large region so that we can have years with many goldfinch and other years with none.

On the plus side, signs are that it is a record-breaking winter for Dark-eyed Juncos with many Christmas Bird Counts reporting record high numbers.

Please help us figure out what’s happening by taking part in our annual Winter Bird Survey in February. Check the web site for more information: http://nhbirdrecords.org/bird-conservation/bwbs/backyard-winter-bird-survey/ or to be added to the mailing list, email us at bwbs@nhaudubon.org.

January 2, 2018