Where have all my garden birds gone?

Springwatch Researcher

Have your garden birds disappeared this summer? Well fear not, we'll tell you why. 

At this time of year, things generally start to quiet down in the natural world. Call it one long sigh of relief, if you will. By mid-August, most birds have finished their breeding season and have fledgling chicks setting out on their own adventures.

You might think this would be the perfect time to sit back, relax and fall into a deep, food-induced sleep on a nice, comfy bird table.

But that’s not really what happens now, is it.

Over the past week or so, we’ve been getting a lot of emails, tweets and facebook messages from worried bird-lovers who are wondering why their gardens are suddenly empty. From the hustle and bustle, the to-ing and fro-ing, the constant need for more fatballs, to the empty quiet, the apparent lack of life in the hedges. So just why have all the birds gone?

Well, it’s actually perfectly normal.

Goldfinches are familiar visitors to garden bird feeders, and have benefited from the popularity of nyjer seed as a bird food.

Think of all those blue tits that came out of that nest box in the tree at the bottom of your garden. In a good year, each pair will raise ten or more chicks to adulthood, and add those to all the great tits, the robins, the blackbirds, the chiffchaffs, the sparrows and every other bird that makes its home in your little patch. They can’t all stay there; there just isn’t the room. So their parents will be encouraging them to find their own territories and set up home in their own little corners of the world.

As we get into the end of the breeding season, a lot of your garden regulars will enter the moult. This is the time of year when many birds lose their feathers, and replace them with fresh new ones ahead of the winter. Many juvenile birds will lose their young plumage, ready to emerge as adults. Whilst necessary, this process puts a lot of pressure on a little bird. The energy cost to grow a new set of feathers is high, and losing a primary wing feather or two can really make a difference when trying to evade a predator. For this reason, a lot of the birds in your garden will lay low, skulking in bushes and hiding in hedges.

Nuthatches are a real treat for garden bird lovers, and will appreciate peanuts in a fine mesh feeder.

The end of the breeding season also hints at another reason you don’t see, or rather hear the birds as much. Males no longer need to attract a mate, which means they don’t need to sing anymore. That blackbird sitting on your shed at 3am every morning now doesn’t have a reason to waste energy by singing his head off. The dawn chorus has become the dawn interval. If you were to stick your head outside in the summer, you’re not likely to hear a lot of bird song, other than a few communicative chips! between neighbours. It’s a sad fact that we’ve got to wait a few months before birdsong reaches the crescendo of spring once more.

The other, possibly most important reason for the lack of birds during the summer months is that they simply don’t need your garden at this time of year. As Clare Simm from the BTO says;

“The other reason for their absence is the abundance of berries and seeds available in the wider countryside during the autumn, which provide the nutrients that birds need to feed up for the winter.”

This is the time of year when trees, bushes, grasses and weeds start to produce their fruit and seeds so they can carry on their legacy into the following year. Lots of garden birds will head out into the wider countryside to fill up on these naturally calorific treats, which probably don’t grow in your gardens. When these fruits run out, usually as we get into November, the birds will come back to their more civilised haunts to wait out the winter.

Blackbirds particularly love fruits like blackberries, raspberries and apples.

So don’t feel bad, or abandoned by our songbirds. They do what they need to do to survive, and for most of the year your garden provides an oasis in an otherwise harsh world. If you’re missing the commotion surrounding a freshly filled feeder, don’t worry; you won’t have too long to wait.

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