Where have all the birds gone?

The onset of warm weather after a prolonged winter (and lockdown) has seen a reduction in the number and species of birds at the feeders in my garden. It is always a mystery as to what brings them here, and now I am wondering what is keeping them away. It can’t be the cats who sit close by, motionless, thinking they can’t be seen. It’s been a while since Mango caught a bird and even longer since it was a fatal hunt – as she ages, perhaps the instinct will fade. Biggles has never caught anything in his lazy life as far as I know, so is never a suspect. The dogs only chase the speckled pigeons, who simply relocate to the roof for a minute then resume their pecking in the flower boxes. No doubt it is the abundance of natural sources of food that makes them less reliant on the feeders that saw them through the lean months of winter.

The interesting thing is that when the birds are here, it is usually a juvenile accompanied by an adult, sometimes two, and so there is definitely nesting activity close by. How marvellous it would be if they nested on the property – there are many trees that I think would be good for nests, but only the birds know what they are looking for in a breeding site. I once found a robin’s nest in the centre of a bromeliad growing under the milkwood tree. Totally unprotected from predation, it regrettably never became used, but I have kept it simply for its beauty. (I know it was a robin as I disturbed it while on the nest.)

The most frequent fledglings over the years have been the Southern Boubou, Common Fiscal, Cape Robin Chat and Southern Double-collared sunbird. Malachite sunbirds have also appeared in numbers as juveniles, and it has been a delight to observe the change in plumage over the breeding seasons, with only the female remaining fairly drab. However, she never lacks for attention, and many mating displays and rivalry between the males have been a source of excitement in this garden where we are privileged to spend much time observing nature from the shade of a spreading branch. The Amethyst sunbird continues to visit, but being much more skittish than the other sunbirds (the SDC is practically tame), we often miss her flying visits, and the male has not been around for some months now. Even the large population of Cape White-eyes has all but disappeared.

A number of aloes are coming into bloom which hopefully will be an attraction (I always thought they were restricted to winter, but that may apply to endemic species and the popularity of aloes as features has led to propagation of species from all over South Africa). I will continue to grow plants that birds love to the extent that the sandy, oily coastal soil will bear, as I still believe they shouldn’t be attracted by sugar water.

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