Now You See Them, Now You Don’t

The Secret Behind Our Disappearing Summer Songbirds

Reading Time: 3 minutes

If you’ve ever wondered where the birds go during the dog days of summer, here’s the secret behind our disappearing summer songbirds.

They’re here one day. Poof. And gone the next. Or so it seems.

The good news is they’re still here.

Our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offer a glimpse into our disappearing songbirds.

According to Cornell Labs, some songbirds are just keeping quieter, and others may be hiding.

There’s no reason to stop birdwatching. So don’t put away your binoculars and cameras just yet.

The birds are just keeping a low profile. 

Summer Songbirds’ Sound of Silence 

So why does it seem like we hear fewer birdsongs?

First, let’s evaluate why birds sing.

Birds sing for two primary reasons.They sing to attract a mate and to defend a territory.

If you’ve been watching the action at your backyard bird feeders, then you’re noticing by now, many baby birds have fledged. 

So birds that raise only one family a year may stop singing altogether. However, other species may briefly resume singing to help their young learn their local song dialect.

But one by one, each species drops out of the spring chorus. 

Unless you’re our backyard Tufted Titmouse. This fella sings his Peter-Peter-Peter song nonstop from March through September. 

intobirds female cardinal
Mating season brings beautiful bird love songs, and molting season gives backyard birds a new look for the fall

Lying Low During Molting Season

After spring breeding season, the molting season kicks in.

Mating season brings beautiful bird love songs, and molting season gives backyard birds a new look for the fall.

The summer molt is the periodic replacement of a bird’s feathers. All birds molt because their feathers wear out from physical abrasion and bleaching, and the process impacts both the appearance and behavior of birds.

You probably see bald songbirds in your backyard at your bird feeders. Unfortunately, all of our crested songbirds like Blue Jays, Cardinals, and the Tufted Titmouse are missing their head feathers.

Just today, our Carolina Wren was sporting a bald patch on his mahogany-colored head. He looks a little silly, but it’s all part of the summer molt.

It’s natural to think something is wrong when you see bald birds, but birds aren’t embarrassed that their once perfectly coiffed crests are replaced by bald patches.

For birds, it’s a matter of survival.

When birds grow new flight feathers, they are especially vulnerable to predators because some of their feathers will be less than full length, creating gaps in their wings that render them less maneuverable or powerful in flight.

If you’re a songbird and a Cooper’s Hawk has you in their sights, you need all your feathers to fly to safety.

intobirds molting blue jay
Blue Jay in summer molt. The molting process impacts both the appearance and behavior of birds

E-Bird Lists for Summer Songbirds are Important

The sudden sound of silence and secretive behavior of birds make them more challenging for us to find just when they’re most abundant because of new young birds. 

So please don’t stop submitting your sightings and summer bird lists to e-Bird. Summer bird counts provide valuable insight into how well the breeding season went.

“Sharing your summer bird observations with eBird helps researchers and conservationists to better understand population cycles. So instead of the dog days of summer, think of them as the bird days of summer,” says Jenna Curtis, program coordinator for eBird.

Curtis says summer is a critical time for bird populations and science to learn where birds go when they’re done nesting and not defending territories? What happens to young birds after they fledge?

These are essential questions that only birdwatchers can help to answer. So if you want to help preserve your backyard birds, keep submitting your checklists to e-Bird.

Turn the silent dog days of summer into the science-based bird days of summer as you gear up for the grand finale of birdwatching – fall migration!


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