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What a Little Rain Can Do

Photo Group
American Robin Eating a Berry
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

What a difference a little bit of rain can make. We are in what the meteorologists are calling a snow drought. For those of us who love feeding birds in winter, the absence of snow and/or really cold temperatures have made bird traffic at our feeders very slow. But wait, I remember the winter of 2011/12 when we only got 4 inches of snow all winter. My feeders were busier than this year. What’s up with that?

To answer that question, we have to look back a few months in both of the years in question. This summer is easier for most of us to remember. We had loads of rain. Absolutely the wettest summer I have seen since the flood year of 1993. Many, many things benefitted from those wet conditions.

We know Monarch populations had a better year and we think it had at least something to do with the more favorable weather conditions across much of their range.

Judging from the number of fledgling birds we saw at out bird feeders in late summer, songbirds in general seemed to have high nesting success.

Plants did really well. Some of my natives were the tallest I have ever seen them. I had no idea that some of these species could get as tall as they did.

How about the summer of 2011? Pretty dry. The effect on natural food supplies going into winter was like night and day compared to this year. Plants require resources to produce fruiting bodies, seed pods, nuts, etc. When it is extremely dry, those resources are limited.

Do you have a crabapple in your yard? How about a wild plum? A Hawthorne? Hopefully not a Bradford Pear? If you do, I expect you noticed plenty of berries this fall.

Now think about the number of Hackberries and other fruit producing trees and shrubs out there and you can imagine the amount of natural food for birds this winter.

The good news for those of us that love observing birds in our backyards, the best is yet to come. Natural food supplies are not limitless and quite often in years like this, the later part of winter is quite busy. I’ve got my fingers crossed!

By Mark McKellar

Winter 2015