What happened to the cardinals?

mulberryknobDecember 10, 2013

This photo was taken at the bird feeder in Jan of 10. Lots of cardinals as we have had for many years. This year I have seen very few cardinals at the feeder, a couple males and a couple females or juveniles at one time is the best it gets. I figured if it snowed, they would show up in flocks again, but it didn't happen. There are still just a few, no more than 5 or 6. Any ideas as to what happened to the cardinals? Could it be because I'm feeding straight sunflower seeds instead of a corn/mixed seed blend?

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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

WOW! that is a cool picture. Im sorry I dont have an answer. I did notice a bunch more than normal at our place of the summer.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 2:54PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Dorothy, I'm inclined to think that the long, cold spring was hard on them. We still were having freezing temperatures sporadically as late as the first week in May, and I am willing to bet that had a negative impact on their population.

Bird populations do fluctuate naturally on their own too, although I think that the cardinal population here at our place does not fluctuate nearly as much as the population of some other birds.

Other possibilities would include:

---heavy spraying of chemical pesticides aimed at pests like grasshoppers in your geographic region, even if you are not using chemical pesticides yourself. When the farmers and ranchers around us spray their pastures heavily because of a severe grasshopper infestation, our bird populations drop fairly quickly, and I feel certain the two are linked.

---as odd and counterintuitive as this will sound, some bird populations drop during years in which there is big cicada hatch. You'd expect the population of birds to soar since there are so many cicadas to eat, but that's not what happens. So, if you had a large number of cicadas this year, they could be responsible. Discovery magazine had a blog post about the relationship between the cicada population and the bird population back in either the summer or the fall. If I can find it, I'll link it. I don't think it offered any conclusions about the relationship between an increased cicada population and a decreased bird population, but it was an interesting article.

As for the question of diet, I put out a blend of several different kinds of seeds and have cardinals there eating no matter what is in that mix. If I only put out cracked corn for the doves, I'll find cardinals eating the cracked corn. If I put out sunflower seeds or a wild bird mix that includes sunflower seeds, though, I'll have tons more cardinals. So, I find it hard to imagine that they are staying away because you've been putting out only sunflower seeds. If I don't put out anything at all, they go to the chicken run and eat hen scratch. While they seem to prefer sunflower seeds, they will eat whatever is available. I've never had them disappear because all that I put out was sunflower seeds.

We had a lot of cardinals this summer, as we almost always do, but seem to have fewer now. One odd thing I have noticed is that the males are feeding at a spot on the edge of the woods where I normally feed deer, rabbits and squirrels. The females are feeding at a spot just outside my kitchen window where I put out a general songbird blend plus extra sunflower seeds. They are not always as segregated by sex as they have been this fall and winter, and I don't know why it is occurring. I guess the male birds did something stupid (grin) and the females are mad at them and are refusing to be seen in public with them until they straighten up and fly right, pun intended.

Some years when we have a higher population of small predators, like bobcats and foxes, the bird population really seems to drop I don't know that the bobcat and fox population is up this year, but the bird population seems like it is down a little bit. We're having more trouble with the population of predators that are larger than bobcats, but I don't know if those larger predators bother with birds.

If they are not showing up to eat anything/everything you have out for them in this cold, snowy, icy weather, I am inclined to think the population is at a down cycle and not that they don't like the food you are offering.


Here is a link that might be useful: Discovery Blog Post: Cicadas/Birds

    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 10:29PM
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Speaking of predators, do you think feral cats have a role in the population reduction?


    Bookmark   December 10, 2013 at 11:05PM
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Feral cats can make a BIG dent in local bird population...and people's housecats that arent' feral do also. Cats should not be allowed to hunt freely by their owners (for local wildlife's sake). We no longer have chipmunks or flying squirrels in our area due to cats (or I'm assuming that's the likely reason).
Also I will 2nd the pesticide idea. One year my parents put tick control granules on their yard. Next thing we saw dead worms everywhere. Then hey, there's no birds...and what's that smell ? It was all the baby birds in the nests in the yard that had rotted (due to either being bed that poison) or their parents died. It took several years to get a healthy local population up again in their yard.
This year, I can count about 7 nests in the shrubbery, several (didn't try to count) in the trees, and a few oddballs (like wrens) that nest in tin cans or fish traps. For a not overly large yard, that's good :)

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 7:56AM
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I didn't think about last spring's cold start. We had freezes once a week through April and snow and a freeze on May 3rd. That seems to be the most likely. Although the land north and east of us changed hands and the new owners have certainly spread a lot of chicken litter on it. I don't know if they've put out anything else. Thanks for the thoughts. I hope that in a few years--or even next year--I see cardinals in flocks again.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 9:49AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, Feral cats can and will kill birds, and so will domestic cats if their owners do not train them to leave the birds alone. I train all cats, both our pets and the feral ones that roam our area, to leave birds alone by spraying the cat with a stream of water from a Super Soaker water gun. I yell "No!" at them as I spray them. The pet cats learn quickly that I'd better not even see them looking at a bird, but the feral cats are slower learners----likely because they are hungry.

Here where we live, if you feed the crows cracked corn, they will take care of all kinds of predators for you. They are very territorial and will chase away owls and hawks, for example, as well as cats. I really don't have to worry about much of anything messing with our chickens, cats or the wild bird population with the crows (or similarly aggressive blue jays) around.

dbarron, I agree with your comments on both feral and domestic cats. Our cats are taught from the time they are young kittens that birds are off-limits. They are surprisingly fast learners. I have one cat named Tiny Baby, who is no longer tiny and no longer a baby, who has a very strong hunting instinct. He was dumped out here alongside our road, with his entire litter, during late winter several years ago and likely learned to hunt in order to survive. I have had to work really hard to teach him not to bother the birds. After he finally accepted that he was not allowed to chase birds, he started chasing rabbits. It took me months to break him of that behavior. Nowadays he focuses on harassing the deer. When I see him doing that, I just roll my eyes. The deer usually will stop feeding and walk away once he gets close enough to them to make them nervous. I keep thinking that an aggressive buck will kick him or head butt him and teach him to respect their space, but so far the deer seem to be more afraid of the cat than he is of them.

We have feeding and watering stations for the wildlife all winter and often in spring, summer and fall as well in drought years, especially once the ponds and creeks dry up. It is amazing how many animals will share a tub of water with one another. I've seen deer, rabbits, possums, coons and armadillos all drinking together at the same time.

We are pretty aggressive about removing predator mammals that are targeting our cats, dogs and chickens. They can roam our acreage all they want, but if they are up around the house, yard and garden, we'll chase them off. If they keep coming back, they may run into a flying piece of lead. It would be so nice if we could let the entire ecosystem function as it ought to, but predators around domestic pets are something we just can't put up with.

Venomous snakes and skunks out in the daylight hours are the only living creatures for which we have zero tolerance.

Dorothy, I hope no one is using pesticides around y'all, but I do see that problem here around us from time to time and it sure can hurt the bird population. I hope your cardinal population returns soon. I have seen a lot more of them the last 2 or 3 days. I think they must have been hiding in the cedar trees or other dense brush during the icy days, but now they are making up for it by eating like crazy.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 10:33AM
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It would be awesome to have a flock of cardinals around like that and I'm sorry that they're not anymore. There's a pair that live close by and are always around, but I don't think I've ever seen more than two at a time. I do have a flock of blue jays though, and you can have them if you want them. They like to get together in my backyard and make lots of noise. It's pretty entertaining, but I'll take cardinals any day.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 4:46PM
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After a few years of not having cats, we have them again, but they are young and inexperienced hunters and so far I haven't seen them make a kill. When the weather warms up I will train them like Dawn does which has worked in the past. (I don't train for bunnies though, because our garden is fenced with hogwire which keeps the rabbit killing dogs out but not the rabbits. We would be overrun if the dogs and cats didn't keep the population down.)

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 8:54AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Leslie, We never have more than a couple of bluejays at once so I find them amusing. We have enough territory that they cannot terrorize all the other birds and cats at once.

The cardinals all over the place today, so I think a lot of them here were lying low during the colder weather. When I went out there early this morning to put out the bird seed, the cardinals were sitting on the fences and trees waiting.

The deer had been relatively quiet and unseen, with significantly fewer visible the last few days. Well, yesterday, they returned in full force and were all over the place looking for stuff to eat. We had them all over the yard all afternoon, and this morning there are tons of deer tracks everywhere. I did notice last evening once the sleet on the ground started refreezing that even the deer were slipping and sliding as they attempted to walk across the sleet-covered areas.

Dorothy, If the bunnies weren't fenced out of our garden with 1" chicken wire that is attached to the lower 2' feet of the garden's woven wire fencing, I wouldn't like having them around either and would let the dogs and cats do as they please. We have one mama cat who was feral after she and her litter of kittens were dumped and she is a good rabbit hunter, though I discourage her from doing that now that she is a well-fed and spoiled-rotten family pet. Our dog, Honey, was the same way. Long after we adopted her (she had been dumped "in the country" while pregnant) and she no longer had to hunt for her food, she persisted in killing and eating rabbits and lining up their heads like trophies on the front porch welcome mat. I think it has been a couple of years since she has brought home a trophy head, and I am glad. I don't especially like opening the front door and finding a chewed-up rabbit head lying there. (Sorry, y'all, but this is one of the realities of living and gardening in a rural area......)

Since our squirrel-chasing dog, Sheila, passed away at 16 years of age a couple of years ago, we have become increasingly overrun with squirrels. I am not especially happy about that, but none of our dogs and cats are much into chasing squirrels. Sheila wouldn't tolerate having one single squirrel around, and even would follow the squirrels on the ground as they jumped from tree to tree to evade her. Our current lazy dogs and cats just walk by a squirrel in the yard and ignore it. I think they have taken my "let's all just get along" message to heart a little bit too much. Thankfully, the cats still chase the field mice and voles and help control them.


    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 11:31AM
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