It was just over a week ago that I participated in the annual mid-winter census of birds known as the Great Backyard Bird Count. During the weekend over which the count occurred, my backyard and my bird feeders were covered in birds, especially our winter visitors, the American Goldfinches. It was common to see the finch feeders carrying at least thirty of the little birds in their greenish winter feathers as they gobbled up my nyger seeds. I was refilling the nyger seed feeders on a daily basis. In addition to the thirty or so on those feeders, there were even more of the birds on the black oil sunflower seed feeders and on the ground under the feeders picking up fallen seeds. A flock of more than 100 birds would fly up when I ventured too close.
But a few days ago, all of that changed. I looked up one day to find that there were no birds on the nyger feeders and the seed levels hadn't gone down for a couple of days. I looked around the yard and found that there were still a few American Goldfinches there, but they were no longer in their winter greens.
I started looking around for my other winter visitors. The little Orange-crowned Warbler that had been a faithful daily consumer of my suet cakes for many weeks was nowhere to be seen. The Yellow-rumped Warblers that had been present in good numbers throughout the winter were down to only a few birds. I looked in vain for the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. It seemed that all of these birds had taken their cue from...somewhere...that it was time to get a move on in order to get on with the business of producing the next generation.
It's funny how that happens almost overnight. One day they are all present and accounted for, noisy and busy, the next day the yard is relatively silent and still.
Of course, the numbers are not down for all the backyard birds. As these winter birds have left us, American Robins have moved in en force. The song of the robin is omnipresent, the background music of my life outdoors these days.
And harmony for that song is provided by the Cedar Waxwings. Throughout the winter, there have been about fifty of the nattily dressed waxwings around my yard. Yesterday I looked up to see a flock that I estimated at around 400 in the trees! They are gathering for their trip north, but they will continue with us for several weeks yet. They are always the last of my winter visitors to leave.
It always makes me a little sad to say goodbye to the goldfinches and the warblers as they head north, but it is good to know that they will gladden the hearts of birders all across the continent as they continue their journey. And meanwhile in my own yard the Eastern Bluebirds and Carolina Chickadees are checking out the nesting boxes.
The seasons are changing. Winter is handing off to spring and soon the sounds of baby birds will be heard around the yard again. Something to look forward to!