Why have birds abandoned my feeder?

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

~~~Apologies in advance for a double post (OP in bird ID forum). Mrs_Ed said I might get more advice over here.~~~

Sometimes it takes me a day or two to notice that birds aren't coming around, which means the seed has become compacted. I promptly dump the seed, dig out the gook, run my Brome Squirrel Buster through the dishwasher (no soap), dry fully in the run, refill, and the birds *always* come back within 2 days. Max.

This time they have not come back after three full days (going on day 4). I saw ONE downy woodpecker at the feeder yesterday, but I think he was confused, as they generally eat suet only if given a choice.

I inspected the seed this morning and it appears to be flowing freely when I poke a finger in. Nice and dry. (We use Wild Birds Unlimited 'No Mess' blend.)

Does anyone think I did something wrong? Is it time for a new feeder? Did the dishwasher leave an unacceptable stink on the feeder, even though I used no soap?

I am feeling very sad. I can't begin to express how much I love seeing that feeder under constant assault from downies and hairies and red-bellied woopeckers, as well as cardinals, chickadees, nut hatches, goldfinches, sparrows, wrens, blue jays, grackles, house finches, etc.

Not even the mourning doves, chipmunks or squirrels are eating the seed I dumped out of the feeder early Friday morning. There's nothing wrong with that seed — or there wasn't when I dumped it in order to get to the caked-up — which I cased from watering my gardens with a sprinkler a couple days before that.

Does anyone have any advice?

Dunlap, IL

I would guess your local birds are migrating. Most of my local birds have left and the feeders are slow. When I watch the trees though, I see a few new birds in the area. Birds tend to migrate when the wind is in their favor, so new birds should arrive with winds out of the north. We just had cold front move in today in the midwest, with winds out of the north. It will be interesting to see if it brought some northern birds with it.

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

I never thought of that, thanks. Our woodpeckers eat at the feeder all year long, though we see more of the hairies and red-bellieds in winter.

I could have sworn the finches and chickadees and nut hatches hung around all year, too. Perhaps I am am not remembering correctly.

Rowlett, TX(Zone 8a)

Perhaps the natural food supply is very good right now, and they are preferring that to feeders?


Portland, OR(Zone 8a)

I think Loonie1 might not be so loonie afterall. :-)

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Could be, Carla. I asked my husband if he remembered what winter birds we got and he said the same ones we get all summer, with the addition of junkos. Our chickadees and sparrows and woodpeckers and nuthatches and titmice and and cardinals don't migrate.

I just find it really odd that a week ago we had *heavy* activity at the feeder from dawn to dusk and now we have none that I can see. Maybe there are new and interesting bugs to eat, but I suspect the departure has to do with the feeder being out of commission for 2-3 days.

No one in our neighborhood feeds birds but us, either.

I know it's silly, but I miss them.

Portland, OR(Zone 8a)

Peony8, not silly at all. Empty nesters (pardon the pun) always feel that way. :-)

Marlton, NJ

Hi Peony, It's slow here too this time of year. There are very short periods when the Chickadee's, Finch and Titmouse come in but otherwise it's quite slow. It will pick up soon.

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

LOL, thanks kind people. I feel like such a dweeb, but I didn't realize how much I have come to love my birds.

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

Great post with lots of helpful info. I was worried too.

Whiteside County, IL(Zone 5a)

Yah, we all love our birds.

You can try putting out a new feeder just to see if there is indeed something wrong with the old one, but my guess is that they all will be returning. I've had a few days recently with hardly anything including house sparrows. And the gold finches? Well you know, they come and go.

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

I *could* out out a new feeder, but I'd have to take out a loan, lol. I definitely need that squirrel buster, and then I'd need the pole.

I'll give it a couple more days and hope for the best before I head to the bird store.

My husband sent me an e-mail to say he saw a downy. Probably the same confused bird I saw yesterday. I want my finches!!

Putnam County, IN(Zone 5b)

I think they are just eating up the natural food right now. I still have finches but not as many right now since they are getting the natural wild thistle and other seeds right now.

Yesterday all my feeders were very busy...today hardly anything all day long at any of them.

Whiteside County, IL(Zone 5a)

peony, I meant you can just put out a cheap one or something to see if they return. Yah, i know those squirrel busters are expensive.

Marlton, NJ

You can buy them much less expensive from a good seller on Ebay. My first one was bought from a bird shop but my second one was bought from a great seller on Ebay and was
over 1/3 less. :-)

Their great feeders!

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Hmm. I'd consider the feeder if I saw birds anywhere. I mean, they are GONE. How would I find out if my area is experiencing heavy raptor migration? I haven't seen a songbird in over a week. Just the odd downy here and there.

Sandusky, OH

You need to consider that its berry season (for birds), to give you an idea, last week I observed I had one Downy and one Mourning Dove in my yard, but not to fret I knew where I would find everybody, I went to my birding spots where there are berries ripening every where and found everyone I was looking for.

Robin loving berry season!

Thumbnail by Burd_Fotos
Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

I will just have to go buy some berries, lol. And start drying my own fruit!

That is a very sweet looking robin you captured there.

I must be traumatized by their mass exodus because I have begun dreaming about birds. Two nights ago I dreamed a red-bellied woodpecker was feeding a baby -- who was actually the size of a toddler, looked more like a robin, and had suet caked on its duck bill (hey, it's a dream, I didn't say I was rational!), and last night I dreamed my yellowwood tree was literally bending under the weight of hundreds of male cardinals. They were jumping in and out of the tree like popcorn.

As long as I am obsessing about my missing birds, I have also noticed a distinct shortage in squirrels and chipmunks. The chippies are probably getting ready to hibernate, but why aren't the squirrels in my yard, collecting acorns from the gazillion oak trees here?

This message was edited Oct 2, 2009 1:22 PM

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Hey, wait! I have berries. Viburnums are in an exposed area, but we also have lots of unidentified shrubby things at the edge of the woods that might be choke cherry. And the dogwood is bursting with reed berries (don't know if they eat those).


Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Hi peony8 and everyone. I haven't seen very many birds at the grains feeder this time of year either. I've hung up a suet feeder along with some thistles, only saw some Northern Cardinal every so often. I heard the Redheaded WP still pecking & calling in our garden. Blue birds are seen abundant all around the area, Carolina Wrens, Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, a Goldfinch, but the House Finches aren't seen around lately -- they too prefer berries this time of year?

Ah, some of the birds are migrating? But I can tell you Squirrels and chipmunks took permanent residents here. lol.

I can imagine you miss your birds, but soon they will return. Please don't ask me when, 'cause I'm new at this kinda thing. lol. Ha about your Redbelly Woodpecker feeding her Toddler-size baby. Poor mama bird! She has gotta be exhausted!!!

I have to look up Chokeberries. We've a Carolina Cherries (?) and many berries outdoor for the birds this time of year here.

Thumbnail by Lily_love
Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

It's been over three weeks since I last saw a yard filled with birds. I finally spotted a single nuthatch at the seed feeder on Sunday and again yesterday.

This morning I heard a lone songbird!! After the last few weeks of zero sound, besides an occasional airplane and the gentle purring of a nearby antique train, I hurried to the window to try to locate the bird (it sounded very close), but when I pulled the curtain back, the sounds came from a further distance and then stopped. I am not experienced enough to identify what it was, but I really miss the riot of bird sound every morning, as well as constant assault on my feeder.

A former colleague who lives two small towns away is an experienced bird watcher. She has helped me identify many birds over the years, including the fun cat bird. She's the kind of enthusiast who gets up at 3 AM to position herself in a cold, dark, dew-covered field in the hopes of spotting a rare bird. And then goes to work! I suppose that might ring true for some of you. Anyway, Jane says I should be seeing more birds right now, not less. Not zero. She says her feeder activity is at an all-time high.

I know I am obsessing. I have a scientific mind and I like to understand why things happen, but I am very inexperienced with all of this. In fact, I am completely new to the world and behavior of birds, other than having enjoyed their company the last several years and having to give up one of my hanging baskets each spring to a sparrow that builds her nest there. So this almost complete absence of birds (outside the occasional woodpecker) is frustrating. I have seen no obvious migration flocks in the sky. And the birds that eat at my feeders all summer are the same birds that eat all winter (with a few extras, like junkos).

I suppose they will come back. And if not them, then new birds. But I do find this behavior extremely bizarre, and I really wish I knew what caused them to leave and stay away so long.

Berries in the woods? Maybe. Bugs in the trees? Possibly. Yet the environment in the woods and neighborhood is exactly the same as it has been for many years. If anything, my yard should be more inviting to birds, as I installed a new tree and many new shrubs and perennials last spring. And my annuals are putting down seeds! I guess the good thing is I will have plenty of flowers next year, lol.

The Ozarks, MO(Zone 5b)

There seems to be less birds currently in my yard also. I normally have tons of Goldfinch but have only seen a few for the past few weeks. Also the Indigo Buntings, Blue Jays, Cardinals and Mockingbirds seemed to have vanished from the yard. I have come to the conclusion that they are just feasting on the abundance of natural feed this year as I see them in the area when I go look for them. A few years ago we had a very late killing freeze in May and much of the natural feed was minimal so the feeders were packed with birds. This year has been a great growing year and the birds are taking advantage while they have a chance. Before you know it...your birds will be back, I am sure of that. Your friend sounds like a really cool person...I can relate to getting up before the sun to find a spot to watch for the birds!!

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Still no birds to speak of, other than the occasional woodpecker or mourning dove.

On Monday, my next door neighbor (who had been crawling around his lawn on hands and knees with his son picking up acorns) wondered where all the squirrels had gone. We are usually littered with squirrels year round, but especially in fall, as they do an excellent job of removing acorns from our lawns.

I received an e-mail from a former colleague, who lives one town away from me:

"Our birds disappeared when we went on vacation at the end of August and have not returned to our feeders."

And the birding friend I mentioned in a previous post forwarded an e-mail that went to the MA bird watch mail list:

To: [email protected]
Subject: [MASSBIRD] Where are the birds?
Date: Tue, 13 Oct 2009 15:12:58 -0400

Where have the birds gone? My feeders have been virtually empty for the last 1 ˝ months.

I have a few Sparrows and Titmice, but absolutely no Chickadees, Finches, Cardinals, Woodpeckers or Mourning Doves.

I have always had so many birds at my feeders that I couldn’t count them all. Now, there is nothing. What is happening to the birds?

I live in Rehoboth, Mass, but people I know from Fairhaven to Stoughton have noticed the same thing.

Any ideas?

Thank You


Troubling. Maybe the birds know something we don't -- as in a looming catastrophic weather event!

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Good news (at least for me), as it confirms what you have all been telling me.

Date: Tue, 13 Oct 2009 17:41:39 -0400
CC: [email protected]
Subject: Re: [MASSBIRD] Where are the birds?

As many of you know, I work part time at Mass Audubon answering questions about wildlife. Every fall we get this question a lot, but this fall has been exceptional - for the past six weeks we have gotten hundreds of calls and emails about this.

A detailed description is available at:

Or if the link breaks, go to
select bird behavior and then "where are the birds"

We got so many calls this fall that we contacted Cornell to see if this was going on elsewhere and it apparently is. They explained that there is a particularly good food crop out there, and birds are taking advantage of it.


I can truly relax now and not take out a second mortgage for buying tons of new attractive bird feeders! Thanks for putting up with me while I obsessed about my missing birds.

Rowlett, TX(Zone 8a)

When you love birds like we do, it is easy to obsess. :-)


Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

I didn't realize how much I loved them until I was missing them. I guess I'll be asking for binoculars this Christmas, hee hee.

Summertown, TN(Zone 7a)

You should definitely get some binoculars, peony - they'll help you out so many, many times. You'll certainly get your money's worth out of them!

A lot of my birds have bailed out right now, too, but I know they'll be back, hungry as ever...;-)

Hang in there!

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Afer 8+ weeks of nothing at my feeder but downy woodpeckers and the occasional nuthatch, I saw my first goldfinches today. THREE of them!

Marlton, NJ

Very good!

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Yes, berries like these keep the birds away from our grain feeders I guess.

Thumbnail by Lily_love
Fresno, CA(Zone 9b)

Peony8, thanks for starting this thread. It has turned into an awesome discussion. And then Mass Audubon link to explain the phenomenon in detail. GR8 thread, folks. Linda

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Anyone noticing an increase in activity? I've had the occasional finch and nuthatch, but still no chickadees or titmice or cardinals or any of the other birds I usually see.

And squirrels ... I see the odd one or two about, but this is the first time in 6 years that I had to pick acorns off my lawn. I haven't seen a chipmunk in at least 2 months

It will be interesting to see what happens when the snow flies, which could be any day.

Marlton, NJ

Are the Chipmunks hibernating?

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

Oh, silly me. I'm sure that's the case.

Wilmar, AR(Zone 8a)

I have finally started getting some WT and Song Sparrows and Juncos but they don't actually eat from the feeders but forage on the ground for what drops down from the feeders. Chickadee and Titmouse activity has increases somewhat but still not a lot. Of course, the Cardinals are ever present but even they aren't very active...just too much good natural stuff out there for them. It's saving on my feed bill!
I think I'm hearing some Goldfinches flying over but they haven't come to the feeders yet.
Still seeing the occasional Ruby-crowned kinglet, too

Marlton, NJ

My Junco's sometimes come to the nyjer feeder along with the sunflower feeders. It's not always easy to catch them doing that.

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

I just wanted to report that we've been mobbed the last few days. ALL the birds have come back, including the beloved redbellied woodpeckers.

Actually I haven't seen a cardinal yet, but they don't seem to like us very much. Need more sunflower seeds, I guess ... though when they visit, they eat suet.

Whiteside County, IL(Zone 5a)

Well that's just great!

Mashpee, MA

I saw a chipmunk a few days ago so mine haven't hibernated yet. We didn't get steady business at the feeders until it got cold at night. But I still haven't seen goldfinches which is odd because they nest nearby and I saw them all summer....and we usually have a least a dozen at the thistle feeder. Ditto with the house finches.

Westford, MA(Zone 6a)

sacarvounis, we're practically neighbors, so hang tight. Nuthatches were the first bird I saw come back, and then the goldfinches, at first just 2-3 at a time, and know they're pecking it out for a perch. My feeder and the ground below it are *finally* mobbed with downies and hairies and red-bellied woopeckers, chickadees, nut hatches, titmice, finches, sparrows, blue jays, and mourning doves. The only bird I haven't seen in months is the cardinal, but they seem to only visit us in winter and spring. I must get another feeder with just sunflower seeds.

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