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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
A cardinal is perched in the bushes at the bird observation center at Fox Island on Thursday.

Plenty of birds despite wild weather patterns

Late last summer I wrote about how all the birds seemed to have disappeared, and Ben Roush, who runs Wild Birds Unlimited, was lamenting that sales of birdseed had dropped dramatically.

We were at the tail end of a drought so bad that people needed to cut their grass only two or three times all summer. Perhaps the food supply had collapsed, some suggested, and all the birds left town.

Or maybe, others said, the high heat and lack of rain had killed all the baby birds, accounting for the dramatic lack of birds of any type visiting some people’s bird feeders.

At the same time, however, some people were saying they had plenty of birds in their yards.

So really, no one knew for sure what or if anything out of the ordinary was happening.

After the December bird count, one person said, maybe we’ll get a handle on whether bird populations are up, down or normal.

Yes, there is a December bird count. Every December, tens of thousands of people stake out nearly 1,800 different areas – or bird feeders – around the country and catalog exactly what species and how many birds they see.

You’ve got to really like birds to stand for hours in the winter weather, and you’ve got to know birds, too.

The Stockbridge Audubon Society held the December count locally on Dec. 15. Bird spotters fanned out in a circle 15 miles in diameter in northern Fort Wayne and counted.

So, I asked Jim Haw, who organized the count, are all the birds gone or do we still have birds?

Haw had the information at his fingertips. The various bird counters recorded 63 different species of birds, the highest number ever recorded for the December count. The old record was 62 recorded in 1999.

The total number of birds counted was about average, Haw said.

Haw attributed the large number of species to the mild fall and relatively mild winter. Water sources were open, not frozen, so there were a lot more varieties of ducks than normal.

One count that was unusual was the citing of 200 robins, 188 of them on the IPFW campus. There are a lot of berry bushes there that apparently attracted the robins.

But birdseed sales are still down, and Haw noted that as he traveled through LaGrange and Steuben counties, he noticed that “quite a few homeowners that used to feed the birds aren’t feeding them this year.”

Haw has no idea why that’s happening. Maybe people have found new hobbies, he said.

At Wild Birds Unlimited, Roush wonders whether people got frustrated by the lack of birds last summer and quit feeding.

“The last five or six years have been rough for a lot of people,” Roush said. Maybe they quit feeding birds to save money, or they’re too busy trying to manage their lives.

Or maybe, he said, people are just taking up new hobbies. In the ’60s and ’70s, people didn’t have as many choices as they do today.

But staring out of the window at different birds eating seed is enjoyable.

Maybe, when the baby boomers begin to retire, they’ll discover birds again.

Meanwhile, as the local count shows, the birds haven’t disappeared.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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