Every morning I counted on the birds.
There was always a profusion of color and flurry around the bird feeder in my backyard and in the trees around the house.
But in the last week or so, the birds have disappeared. The bird feeder is still full from the last refill.
The mornings now have an eerie emptiness.
The birds — so many and of such a variety of colors and personalities — were among my last companions, along with the squirrels and the chipmunks and the deer that come down from the thick woods beyond the backyard.
The squirrels and the chipmunks have gone too, come to think of it. Two young deer came down this morning when I looked out the window around 3 a.m. They eat the bird seed (a mixture of nuts and fruit) that spills onto the ground.
I am by no means an ornithologist but I know some birds fly to summer breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska, but not many. Most of the birds that frequent my feeder — sparrows, finches, doves, blue jays — are year-round residents that don’t migrate.
So where are they?
I read there’s a mysterious disease that’s killing songbirds in the mid-Atlantic and neighboring states. The states mentioned (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky) did not include New York, but I was left to wonder if that’s why they have vanished from my backyard.
When I mentioned this to a friend who lives in the Niagara Frontier he suggested it could be the presence of hawks in my piece of the sky.
“The times I’ve seen a total absence of birds around my feeder — I mean totally GONE! — was because a red-tailed hawk had cruised noiselessly over the area,” he said. “The birds eventually return, but if the hawk remains in the vicinity, it may take some time.”
“I have seen a hawk or two swooping around,” I told him. “They cast a fleeting shadow as they fly over.”
“That fleeting shadow fly-over sums it up,” he said. “Imagine it was twenty-five times YOUR size — you’d flee and hide as quickly as possible, too!”
Whether the bird exodus is due to summer migration or illness or menacing black hawks, it’s a distressing situation. For the birds and for me.
I relied on their “company.” In my solitary life in this country hovel I would stand at the kitchen window and watch their comings and goings, admiring all the colors and enjoying their different personalities — the macho blue jay versus the meek mourning dove, for example.
The cat would watch them too, harboring different thoughts than mine. They filled a gap in our lives. Now I turn away from the window and say to the cat: “Now what?”