where are my backyard birds

Mass Audubon often receives questions from concerned bird watchers asking, in essence: “Why are there no birds?” Where there were once a lot of birds in the yard or at feeders, now there are almost none.

Unless there has been a significant change in the immediate area of a feeder, or in the local habitat, the answer will usually be explained by population dynamics. Populations of all songbirds are subject to natural fluctuations from year to year. These are usually associated with widespread success or failure during the breeding season, which in turn is related to weather, food supply, predators, and other conditions.

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Bird Populations Vary with the Seasons

Many people believe that the birds they regularly observe in their yards are constant elements, much like the trees and shrubs. In fact, however, bird populations are extremely dynamic.

For example, in some years a different wintering population replaces most, if not all, of the summering chickadees, Blue Jays, and other “resident” birds. Because members of the same species tend to look pretty much the same, changes in the number of feeding birds are usually undetectable unless concentrations grow noticeably high or until the departing visitors are not quickly replaced by a fresh batch of hungry patrons.

People may begin searching nearby woodlots when they notice a concerning disappearance of birds in the early fall, and their concerns are validated. There’s a pall of silence and inactivity where the woods used to be full of singing birds. This too is completely normal. By late summer, bird song essentially stops, with the exception of exceptionally talkative species like mockingbirds.

Because bird song is such a significant aspect of our time outdoors, we frequently overlook its absence on pleasant September days unless we are actively listening for it. Birds tend to form feeding flocks once they leave their breeding grounds, and when one or more of these flocks are elsewhere, it is not uncommon for large swaths of the landscape to be devoid of birds. A protracted quiet in the depths of an autumn forest is not concerning.

Birds Find Food in the Wild

Berries, weed seeds, mast (acorns and other nuts), and invertebrate sources like lace bug larvae are examples of wild foods. The seasonal and annual availability of these foods is subject to change. Birds will leave areas with less bounty and congregate in areas with a particularly high concentration of wild foods.

The number of winter residents will depend on the availability of food in the wild. For instance, if the mast crop in Massachusetts is poor, Blue Jays will move farther south to areas with higher natural food sources. The fields stay open and the weed seeds are available to seedeaters, especially Dark-eyed Juncos and Tree Sparrows, when Massachusetts has an exceptionally open winter early in the season.


Why have the birds suddenly disappeared from my yard?

Bird populations fluctuate seasonally and from one year to the next for a range of reasons. Often when someone reports that birds have gone missing from their yard, they are just seeing normal variation. Causes for these regular changes include: Fluctuating food supplies/requirements.

Why are no birds coming to my feeder?

Poorly designed feeders, or those in disrepair, can keep birds away. Make sure your feeders are in good working order and that the food is easy for the birds to retrieve from them.

Do backyard birds stay in the same area?

Studies of banded birds show that 20-60 percent of migratory songbirds are likely to return to the same local area at least two years in a row.

What happened to the birds in New Hampshire?

The answer, experts say, is likely a combination of migration, climate change, and a mast year, the latter meaning oak trees are producing a lot more acorns than usual, and in turn, birds may not be seeking out backyard feeders as often.