Where Have All The Birds Gone?

–  January 22nd, 2017


I heard the screech owls last night, an anxious cry shrieking through the darkness.  The little gray owl appeared in September and is guarding her place in the box again this year.  For more than a decade owls have nested in the yard, successfully producing several clutches of four or five owlets.  But for the last three years there have been no owlets, even though the adults occupied the box faithfully from December to May.  Last May the pair roosted in the ligustrums, sheltering themselves from mid-day heat and staring up at the round entrance of their wooden house as if waiting for their offspring to miraculously emerge.  They never did.

No birds are at the feeder this windy morning.  Gusts must be blowing through at 30 miles per hour.  The wax leaf ligustrums sway back and forth as the plastic roof over the deck knocks against its frame.  Stray branches, slender and bare, are pushed up the street into the curb.  January in Texas.  Without the wind it would be warm.

Not a single goldfinch has visited this year, or a red-winged blackbird.  This is not disappointing; it’s frightening.  What has happened to the birds?  All the tiny creatures I lured here with sunflower and thistle seeds, suet, water.  December brought sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, house finches, Carolina wrens, woodpeckers and starlings to the backyard.  A pair of great horned owls visited Christmas week, perching high in the pecan tree then hunting through the neighborhood.  They have not been seen in weeks.

Where are the goldfinches that emptied the feeders so rapidly I could not keep them full?  And I haven’t seen a chickadee or a titmouse in a month.  What is the cause of it all, this dearth?  The drought is over; it was over last year.  Have all the birds that left, left for good?  Found other habitat?

I walk the arroyo with its oak trees lined up like the Queen’s guard, encountering change at almost every corner.  The construction in the neighborhood is an ongoing destruction of habitat and a continual disturbance to all who live here.  Houses are torn down, new houses rise up; renovations in progress using every square inch of earth.  Additions.  Deletions.  Destruction.

The birds are losing their home and so am I.  I have lived in this house, in this yard for 23 years.  Sometimes I think if the birds are leaving, maybe I should leave too.  If they have found a better home, maybe I should too.  Houses in neighborhoods and towns outside the city are less expensive and in many cases a lot nicer than my little bungalow.

I stay here for the birds.  I fantasize about moving, but can’t seem to budge from the backyard.  Who will fill the feeders and bird baths if I leave?  Will someone knock down the house and the owl house, taking the great pecan and ligustrums with them?  The unpredictability of change is wrenching, but so is fear of doing nothing.  Don’t wait too long.  Watch the birds.  See what they do.  Standing still can deteriorate into regret.



  1. merle s April 1, 2017 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    well written thoughtful article

  2. Tim S. April 2, 2017 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    My birds are way down as well. Makes me wonder what is going on. You have a great backyard, a welcome environment for our wild friends. We have a strong connection with “place”.

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