Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Where have all the birds gone?

Activity at our bird feeders has been very slow. Sure there is the occasional chickadee or cardinal visiting but for the most part it has been very quiet. September and October are peak months for fall migrating birds such as Grosbeaks, Orioles and  Flycatchers who are headed to warmer climates for the winter. So why are our feeders absent of birds?


Because our wildlife garden is working! 

This time of year there is so much natural food available like seeds, acorns, insects, berries and fruit that the birds don't need to bother with supplements.
It is important not to tidy up your garden in the fall. Your spent flowers provide seeds for many birds. Flowers such as asters, sunflowers, coneflowers, black-eyed susans, coreopsis, cosmos, daisies, and goldenrod, joe-pye weed and ironweed are a few seed producers that attract birds. Leave the dead plant stalks too. You may be surprised what insects will live there over the winter.


This is a gall found on the goldenrod which is made by the goldenrod gall fly. Downy woodpeckers and Carolina chickadees are two birds who will seek out these galls, break them open and make a meal of the larvae inside. There is also a beetle (Mordellistena unicolor) that will burrow into the gall to get to the larvae. And two types of parasitic wasp (Eurytomo gigantea & Eurystoma obtusiventris) which also prey on the goldenrod gall fly larvae. These wasps inject their eggs into the gall and when the eggs hatch the parasitic wasp larvae eats the gall fly larvae. These two species rely entirely on goldenrod for their survival. 


At this time of year we must be careful while walking through our woodland garden. The white oak trees have begun their annual assault hurling acorns down at breakneck speed. And if there is a bit of wind, watch out! A bop on the head can leave quite the welt. We have lots of white and red oaks and their acorns support a wide variety of wildlife including blue jays, squirrels, chipmunks, flying squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and wild turkeys. Red oaks take two years to mature acorns which are high in fats and carbs. White oaks produce acorns on an annual cycle but are sporadic in their production...they can have light and bumper crops. White oak acorns contain fewer tannins, taste better and are the highest in carb content. These two trees compliment each other well in terms of supporting wildlife.


Sumac berries are packed with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). I'm sure they boost the birds' immune system for the winter just like it does ours. These berries are long lasting and especially popular when other berry sources are long gone. We have several colonies of sumac growing around our garden. Recently, we had to take down a few sumac which were growing rather perilously but I didn't want to waste the berries so I added them to a grapevine wreath which I hung up for the birds to feast on.


American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is one of my favorite shrubs for interesting berries. They support at least 10 different birds, including cardinals, mockingbirds, sparrows, bluebirds and woodpeckers. The berries have a high water content so they are particularly popular during dry periods.


Hearts-a-Burstin (Euonymus americanus) is an inconspicuous shrub most of the year but moves into the spotlight in fall with its crazy seed capsules that burst open to reveal the seeds. The white tailed deer certainly like these but birds will visit them too.


The dogwood trees are typically packed with fruit at this time of year, but because spring was wet and the sun was scarce the blooms were lackluster and the polinators were scarce. As we go into fall we are still feeling the effects of the unusual weather. Yet, a few berries have emerged which provide food for an array of birds including cardinals, tufted titmouse, eastern bluebirds, and american robins. Racoons, foxes, deer, chipmunks, squirrels and skunks will also feed on these berries.


It won't be long before the temperatures plummet and the seeds and berries have been foraged and we will start to see more bird activity at feeders. But for now, we are enjoying watching bird behaviors in their natural habitat and making notes about which shrubs, perennials and trees we want to add to support more birds and wildlife.

17 comments:

  1. I have to laugh because the birds here are fighting over feeder food with anticipation of cold weather. They are very greedy now gobbling every Viburnum berry and Echinacea seed they get their beak on - even with a feeder full of seed. It is such a different 'restaurant' with your cafe having temps still in the 70's. We are finally down to 55° today.

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    1. I think you are about a month ahead of us on the weather. Although this week it is suppose to be cooler here as well. I still have one hummer hanging around...trying to see if it is a ruby throat or perhaps my rufous (fingers crossed).

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  2. It always makes me so happy to see birds gathering seed from the garden rather than the feeder. We've cooled down to the 70's this weekend...a welcome reprieve from the heat. Still seeing lots of hummingbirds; the pineapple sage has started blooming - one of their favorites ;)

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    1. Enjoy the hummers and cooler temps Cat! I call the area where we have pineapple sage the hummingbird highway. There is a constant flow of activity there and it blooms right at peak migration time.

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  3. Your post is great...love the review of wildlife beneficial plants. Our birds are hungry little beggers devouring everything in site no matter the season. Love that they come to the feeders and to the berries throughout our landscape. Haven't noticed as many migrators lately. Hmm... could it be due to the red tailed hawk that is camped out here several times a week?

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    1. LOL! We have several hawks that hang out here too. Sometimes they sit right on the top of the bird feeder posts and I just have to smile because there is no way the birds are coming into the garden then.

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  4. My viburnum, dogwood, and spicebush berries all disappeared very fast this year. All that are left are the snowberry. It's been an odd year for bird feeding - spring was extremely busy but then things fell off dramatically in summer.

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  5. I have wanted to cut down my sunflowers because they look so ratty, but the little chickadees would be very disappointed to find their favourite treat is gone. I have decided providing them with food is much more important than having a neat and tidy garden.
    I wonder if the lack of birds where you are also has to do with the unseasonably warm weather we have been having up here. Why leave and migrate south when the days are mild?
    I found the information on the goldenrod galls particularly interesting. I have often noted galls in local fields and wondered about them.

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  6. Wonderful photos and lots of interesting information.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  7. A fun and informative post. Your breadth of knowledge is so impressive. Like yours, my whole garden is a bird feeder, so I don't even bother with a bird feeder! I just wish they'd leave my callicarpa alone for a few more weeks so I can enjoy the berries too. Is that too much to ask?

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  8. You have a real banquet of delights for the birds, and the bugs. This is only our second summer here, and the yard resembled a football field when we moved in, but now each season there is more and more for the critters.

    Jen

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  9. Great photos and I learn something (e.g. goldenrod gall) at the same time ! We have fields of goldenrod, as well as lots of sumac so I think a lot of birds and insects will be well-fed.

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  10. You should have very happy, well fed, birds in your garden. I am always looking for suggestions on plantings that will help be support more birds so thank you for passing such helpful information.

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  11. I really admire how you've cultivated a sanctuary for your wildlife, including the deer, which are considered a huge pest here. I never knew that even a gall supported other wildlife. Most of the drupes have already been eaten off my Prague viburnums, which are always full of birds since they're evergreen. Love the sumac wreath. :o)

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  12. Great post Karin. This time of year seems like a bird heyday to me. We see constant action and we don't have a single feeder. Woodpeckers like our old birch trees, bluejays love the big sunflowers, all the birds love the apple orchard. I love the idea of seeing birds up close at feeders but nothing feels better to me than being able to provide them with shelter and natural food.

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  13. No feeders here just suet, but the birds are busy still eating insects (no freeze yet), and lots of berries or seeds all over the garden. They clean up the garden for me.

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  14. Hi Karin! What a great, informative post! I absolutely enjoyed reading it. I do leave some dry perennials in the garden and the birds love it! In September, we had several days of non-stop rain. After the rain stopped I watched a birds' feast in my garden: the birds of several types came in big numbers and enjoyed berries and seeds.It was something! I think they will appreciates flower seeds even more in winter!

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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