BIRD WATCH: To avoid offense, give birds warning before a trip

THERE IS ONE question this column receives throughout the year but it is asked most frequently during the summer months and in the middle of winter.

“We’re going to be gone for several weeks. What is the best way to prepare the birds when it comes to our feeders?”

We feed birds for our own enjoyment and they will do just fine without our feeders.

However, there are some things to consider.

The time of year we leave the birds on their own is one of them.

When you leave for two or three weeks (or longer) in the dead of winter, it’s a good idea to give the crowd at the feeders some warning.

The earlier you do this, the better.

That forces the birds to find other food sources.

They will do this and much faster than you might think.

It really isn’t fair to wait until the last minute to take down the feeders.

It is more kind to cut back on provided food over a period of some days.

They will take the hint.

Even if you have someone tend the feeders, it is still a good idea to back off on the feeding.

If something comes up and your “feeder tender” has to miss several days, the birds won’t be caught off guard when several inches of snow suddenly changes the picture.

It’s far less of a worry when you take off for a week or several during the summer or fall.

Natural food is abundant and the birds are well aware of that.

Just the same, things will change if you let feeders go unfilled at this time of the year.

When you return you might think your birds have left you completely.

They haven’t, but they have changed the frequency of their visits.

It’s as if they check to see if their easy food is once again available.

Hummingbirds can get their feelings hurt more than other birds.

This was apparent when I returned home from this summer’s trip to Russia.

We were gone for two weeks.

While one of the grandsons kept my baskets and planters watered, he neglected the empty feeders.

If you’ve been away for a couple of weeks there are always things that seem to need attention as soon as you return home.

The hummingbird feeders were at the top of the list.

Once they were cleaned and filled, I waited and waited and waited.

It took two days before an immature Anna’s found that the table was set.

For a short time, it had the feeder all to itself.

Then one by one the crowd returned.

Even a male rufous showed up and as they often leave in late July, that was a nice surprise.

The other birds behaved much as when a new feeder, or a first time feeder, is introduced to the yard.

It takes no time at all before either the juncos or the towhees show up.

It’s as if they are constantly cruising the neighborhood on the lookout for something to eat.

That’s just what they are doing and their presence lures other birds as well.

In addition to the hummingbirds, the bushtits are the slowest to return to their feeders.

I think I waited three days before the flock descended, not on the feeder, but on the birdbath.

Water is a big draw at this time of the year and as the dripper was active during my absence, the bushtits continued to come to their favorite water source.

It didn’t take too long for them to notice their feeder was full.

If you are planning some travels in the coming months, go with a clear conscience and enjoy yourself.

The birds will survive and forgive.

They always do.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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