A red-winged blackbird might not be showing up at your backyard feeder because it is migrating south for the winter. Toby Talbot/Associated Press

Not seeing as many birds at your bird feeder these days? Most years, a combination of factors can cause a decreased detection of birds, especially at feeders. Some years this is more noticeable than others, and this is clearly one of those years, based on the number of phone calls and messages we’ve been getting. So many people are asking: “Where are the birds?”

I’ve written about this phenomenon a few times over the years (like in 2017 when the phone at Maine Audubon was ringing off the hook) but I wanted to address a few of the special things that are happening this year.

First, let’s keep in mind that fall migration is peaking right now, and many birds are leaving Maine. From red-winged blackbirds to yellow warblers, many of the birds that have been in our yards and visiting our bird feeders for the last few months are heading to their wintering grounds in large numbers. Since the beginning of the month, BirdCast (a project that uses radar to count and predict abundance of migrating birds) has tracked more than 110 million birds passing over Maine.

Also, some of the species we don’t think of as migratory – since we see them in our backyards throughout the year – do actually undertake some, albeit short, migrations. Blue jays are a great example of this: the ones at your feeder in June may be completely different from the ones you see in December. Sometimes we see an exodus of jays, much like in the winter of 2018-19 when they went from being reported on about 35% of all checklists submitted to eBird in Maine, down to only 18%.

We need to acknowledge that there was some overhyped hysteria ahead of Tropical Storm Lee in September. A viral video that showed tired migrating birds attracted to the light of a fishing boat and landing on a lobsterman’s head had many people incorrectly attributing the birds’ behavior to the incoming storm. I suspect this caused a “recency illusion” for many people, where after the (false) threat of the storm was pointed out, people then started looking for the impacts from the storm, blaming the lack of birds at feeders on the passage of the storm. Overall, the storm had very little effect on our birds.

Some birders become storm-chasers with the hope that a hurricane will bring tropical birds to our region; you’ve probably heard about the flamingos brought north with Hurricane Idalia. The hurricane slowed to a tropical storm, probably allowing most of the ‘targets’ to escape before the storm made landfall.


Since Lee turned across the Atlantic and traveled to western Europe, there have been reports of New World songbirds being found there. These birds were some unlucky migrants that followed the prevailing winds of Lee, and they are now being cherished by hundreds of British “twitchers” out marveling at them. As those birds make headlines, I’m seeing many Mainers say “that is where all the birds went,” but I think it is important to note that vagrancy via storms is a common phenomenon. Those few birds that did get translocated by Lee are a tiny fraction of the millions that are moving through eastern North America right now.

Another major reason you are seeing fewer birds at feeders is because there is better food almost everywhere right now. Lots of plants, especially wildflowers, are going to seed or forming fruit right now and birds (and squirrels, too) are going to be targeting those high-quality food sources. One way to keep birds in your yard, even when they aren’t at your feeder, is by providing them with the native plants they need. Check out the Maine Audubon Native Plant Finder to learn about the plants you can use to attract and help birds.

If you really think there aren’t any birds still around, join me on a Thursday morning bird walk at Gilsland Farm in Falmouth. These walks are free, we have extra binoculars, and begin at 7 a.m. right in the parking lot. Come on out and see for yourself.

Have you got a nature question of your own? Email questions to ask@maineaudubon.org and visit maineaudubon.org to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 7 to 9 a.m., at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.

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