where are the birds this winter

So far, our fall and winter migration activity has shown mixed results. Many of our typical winter birds are present, such as yellow-rumped warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets and white-crowned sparrows.

However, noticeably absent are dark-eyed juncos, pine siskins and Cassin’s finches. Most years I have nearly as many dark-eyed juncos frequenting my bird feeding area as white-crowned sparrows — which is a lot! This is absolutely not the case this year. Dark-eyed juncos are just hard to come by — which is quite surprising considering this is one of the most abundant bird species in all of North America.

As you might imagine, a lot of customers are asking, “Where are the juncos this year?” “Why aren’t there any pine siskins?” If I had a crystal ball, I would have definitive answers. All I can offer is my opinion on the lack of birds this fall.

Migratory birds are highly nomadic. Where birds choose to spend their winter months has more to do with food availability than with the specific location of where they winter. The location and abundance of food is not static, but is variable. Prescott is a perfect case study.

Last year, our abysmal summer monsoon rains resulted in very little natural food sources for migratory birds. The lack of local natural food sources created a situation where birds that would have normally wintered here instead spent their winter somewhere where there was sufficient food to sustain them.

Let’s fast forward to this year. Our summer monsoons were fantastic! Nature responded with a profusion of weeds, forbs and grasses, producing an abundance of natural food for wintering birds. This year, wild birds are spread throughout the region since there is plenty of natural food available to them. They are not nearly as dependent on human-provided food sources.

Additionally, we’ve had a very mild fall which means wild birds have been less stressed. However, when we receive an abundance of snow — burying all of the natural food sources —birds will show up at feeders in their desperation to find food. Birds are aware of the location of food, and if they need it, they will take advantage of it.

When times are tough—remember the major snow event we had in February of 2019 and the storm this past January where each storm produced over 25 inches of snow — birds sought out reliable, dependable food sources.

The same can be said for nectar feeders, which I discussed last week. If birds are not stressed, they will find natural food sources sufficient to sustain their daily metabolic needs. However, during a major snow event, they will be at your feeders, which will help them survive those challenging times.

Crissal thrashers, which are listed as ‘abundant’ in the Birds of Prescott checklist, are rarely seen by most homeowners. It’s not that these birds aren’t in their yard, it’s just that this species is a skulker and prefers to eek out an existence in an undetected way.

Most homeowners see this species for the first time when we have a major snow event. All of a sudden, a bird that they have never seen before shows up at their feeders. In reality, this bird has been in their yard the whole time, foraging in dense undergrowth, never to be seen.

As we move into winter, I encourage you to be consistent in your bird feeding, as it will be a safety valve for your feathered friends when they are stressed and urgently needing food.

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. 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 eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.

How are irruptions different than migrations?

Regular, predictable movements within a given time period and between the same geographic areas are characteristics of typical migrations. Instinctive reactions to environmental cues associated with seasonal variations are what propel migration. Irruptions are a different, less predictable type of migratory behavior. Irruptions are complicated and poorly understood, but it is thought that a lack of food in a bird’s normal range frequently causes these abrupt, erratic movements.

Birds may be sighted during irruptions that occur outside of their usual home range. Extreme circumstances can cause birds to stray hundreds or thousands of miles from their usual wintering grounds. Numerous bird species, such as owls, hawks, shrikes, waxwings, nuthatches, chickadees, various finches, and numerous species of woodpeckers, are susceptible to irruptions. If you pay great attention, you might be fortunate enough to see some new birds and an uncommon bird in your area.

Irruptions are driven by a predator-prey relationship. When it comes to irruptions, birds are the predators and a vast array of foods, including seeds, fruit, rodents, and other animals—even other birds—are the prey. Although it may not seem like it to you, seeds are actually prey for the plants that produce them. Every seed consumed reduces the likelihood that the plant will proliferate. In order to combat this, plants release enormous amounts of seeds whenever they can. These are years when there is far more food available than what seed-eating birds require to survive. Consequently, both the plants and the birds are able to flourish. The plants have produced so many seeds that there are plenty left over to germinate in the warmer months and eventually grow into mature trees, allowing the birds to stay in their winter habitat without having to travel in search of food.

Our terrible summer monsoon rains the previous year left migratory birds with very few natural food sources. Birds that would have typically wintered here instead spent their time somewhere with enough food to sustain them due to the lack of natural food sources in the area.

Prescott, Arizona’s Jay’s Bird Barn is owned by Eric Moore. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. Send him an email at eric@jaysbirdbarn if you have any questions about wild birds that you would like to see covered in upcoming articles. com.

Let’s fast forward to this year. Nature responded with a profusion of weeds, forbs, and grasses, producing an abundance of naturally occurring food for wintering birds. Our summer monsoons were fantastic! Wild birds are dispersed across the area this year due to the abundance of naturally occurring food sources. They are not nearly as dependent on human-provided food sources.

Although they are classified as “abundant” in the Birds of Prescott checklist, most homeowners hardly ever see crissal thrashers. It’s not that these birds aren’t in their yard; rather, this species of bird likes to blend in with its surroundings by being stealthy.

Furthermore, the fall has been exceptionally mild, which has reduced stress levels in wild birds. But, in times of extreme snowfall, which buryes all of the natural food sources, birds will flock to feeders in a desperate attempt to find food. Birds know where food is, and they will take advantage of it if they need it.

Why don’t birds consistently use my feeders?

You might worry that bird populations aren’t doing well if you don’t see many birds at your feeders, but this could be the exact opposite. Remember that birds virtually always favor natural food sources. A surplus of natural food sources could be the cause of the birds’ absence from your feeder.

When the environment is unfavorable for producing seeds, trees store their energy and produce fewer seeds. Many birds are forced to use any other food sources that are available during those winters, including your bird feeders. This is the time of year when a lot of birds are probably going to visit your yard.

We hope you continue to enjoy winter bird watching and have a better understanding of the driving force behind the variation you see, whether it’s a busy or slow season at your feeder.

For Parents and Educators


Why are there no birds at my feeder this winter?

Cones, berries, seeds, and insects change from year to year, causing birds to move about to take advantage of food surpluses and to escape from areas with food shortages. Also, birds have different dietary needs during different times of the year, so they may move to or away from your feeders seasonally.

Why don’t I see birds in winter?

A lack of birds at your feeder may be the result of abundant natural food sources. In years when conditions aren’t favorable for seed production, trees conserve their energy and make fewer seeds. During those winters, many birds have no choice but utilize any other available food sources, including your bird feeders.

Where are the birds in winter?

Cavity nesters like nuthatches, titmice and downy woodpeckers use tree cavities and nest boxes to stay warm. Cavities and boxes provide protection from the weather and help birds hide from predators. Larger birds like American crows and ring-billed gulls are also known to flock together for warmth.

Where have all the backyard birds gone?

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the reason birds haven’t been coming to feeders is because of the overabundance of natural foods out in the environment. This fall has been unseasonably warm and dry.