Photography by Curtis and Norma Beaird
Article by Norma Beaird
Research information from Birds of Georgia, by Parrish, Beaton and Kennedy
Since February 2012, we've been feeding birds on a full-time basis. We have always had cardinals coming to the feeder to eat at Le Avian Cafe. Every day, we would look forward to the Duke and Duchess gracing the dining table with their presence. No matter what other birds arrived and departed, we could always count on the Northern Cardinals to show up for lunch and dinner. The Northern Cardinal, a full-time resident of the Peach State, is one of the more common birds of Georgia.
The Northern Cardinal forms one of the bird world's most faithful pair bonds. This avian wonder owes its name to the vivid red plumage of the male, which resembles the red robes of the Roman Catholic cardinals. These regal-looking birds are usually the first choice for calendars and Christmas cards.
To our surprise and dismay, and near the end of summer and beginning of autumn, we noticed something very unusual. The cardinals were not coming to the feeder on a regular basis. By the time autumn had arrived, they had basically stopped coming to the feeders altogether. We were not only sad, but very concerned.
We live in a very rural area around a lot of farmland. Last year, the farmers planted mostly wheat, which attracts more birds, to include the lovely and loud Red-Winged Blackbird. This year, however, they planted cotton. During the years that they plant cotton, a defoliant is sprayed to help the remove the foliage from the cotton.
The defoliant makes it a little tougher for humans to breathe when outside. We could only imagine the impact on the avian community. According to a 2006 article from the National Wildlife Federation:
Biologists estimate millions of birds die every year in the United States from the effects of agricultural chemicals sprayed on cotton and other crops.
Therefore, we were worried that the defoliant had affected some of our bird population. We also read an informative article from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island entitled "Where Have All the Birds Gone?"
"In late summer and early fall, the forests and fields are simply burgeoning with trees and shrubs that are full of ripe fruit, berries, seed pods and other fresh, highly nutritious and easily obtainable food," adds Kim Calcagno. "The birds are foraging in these trees, thickets and meadows in search of these treats. Whether a bird will migrate or will stay in the area and face the cold of winter, this fall harvest helps them build up the necessary fat and muscle for the work ahead. They take advantage of the food sources while they can. It will be winter soon enough and they will once again have to work harder to find food."
Whether it was the defoliant that moved the cardinals down the road or whether it was a plentiful alternate food source, one thing was for sure. We missed those colorful avian beauties that landed on our feeders every day. Thankfully, a few weeks ago, we gradually began to see our cardinals come back to the feeders, especially after we had a few days of rain and freezing weather. It's just not the same without these unique avian creatures!
Copyright 2015, Curtis and Norma Beaird. All rights reserved.