Over the summer we get lots of people writing to us wondering why all the birds seem to have disappeared from their gardens. During spring, gardens are full of birds flying back and forth as they build their nests or hanging around the bird feeders eating you out of house and home. The dawn chorus is at its loudest with birds waking you up with their song at the glimmer of first light.
But come July and August it all suddenly goes quiet. Your feeders are empty and there is little birdsong to be heard.
Birds sing in spring to defend their territories and to attract mates. Although some birds raise several broods of chicks in a year, by June most egg-laying is finished and birds will stop singing, conserving the energy they need to raise their young. This can happen quite suddenly, and the sudden cessation of early morning bird song can make it seem as though birds have disappeared.
Later in the summer as well as not hearing any song you may stop seeing birds altogether. Although young birds may have been encouraged to leave your garden by their parents to find new territories adult birds disappear for another reason.
After breeding season many garden birds go into moult, as a result of hormonal changes brought about by the change in season. The stresses of breeding season can leave birds with tired feathers so during moult they lose any old feathers which may be worn out or damaged and replace them with strong new ones ready for the winter when it’s important that their feathers are in optimal condition to keep them warm. Juvenile birds will also lose their young plumage and grow adult feathers.
During moult birds are vulnerable and instead of spending time out in the open, they will hide in hedges and bushes out of the way of predators which they will find it harder to fly away from. Completing a moult can take up to eight weeks and during this time you may not see many garden birds.
In the summer months, birds’ natural food sources will be abundant so they may not need to visit your garden for food, preferring instead to eat seeds, grasses, fruit, berries, and insects. Some garden birds will venture back out into the countryside, while others will visit parks and other open spaces in search of food. You may wish to stop feeding birds in the summer or put out less food. This will prevent it spoiling in the heat which can attract rats and other pests.
If you have a bird bath then it’s important to keep this topped up so any birds who do visit have fresh water to drink and bathe in. On hot days you might see a bird lying on the ground with its feathers spread out. Although it may look as though it’s sick the chances are it’s sunbathing, not to get a tan but to help with feather maintenance, or even simply for pleasure.
The final reason birds can disappear from your garden is that a predator has moved into the vicinity. A sparrowhawk may have taken up nearby residence or cats may have become more active in the neighbourhood. Birds need to feel safe so if they think that they will be attacked in your garden they will move away.
Whatever the reason for their disappearance, once the days start getting cooler and shorter, and natural food sources start to become scarce the birds will return. As long as they have food to eat and somewhere safe to shelter they will come back ready to fatten themselves up over autumn and winter ready for the beginning of breeding season next year.