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What is a Mast Year

Where are the birds?  Our feeders aren’t being used.  Is something wrong with the birds?  There are no squirrels.  In the last 6 or 7 weeks these questions keep popping up.  No there is nothing wrong with the birds, they haven’t disappeared, they are just doing what nature intended. They are foraging in the wild.  This happens every fall when the seeds, nuts and berries are available.  That said some years are Mast Years.  Since trees need to use a significant amount of their energy to create flowers and seeds (aka mast), they don’t produce heavy crops every year. When they do, it happens with surprising synchronicity among species, which means the forest canopy can be affected region-wide (since more energy for mast means less energy for leaves). This year is turning out to be a pretty big mast year in New England — a bit surprising, given that the late frost should have killed off much of the trees’ flowering activity. Beech, maple, hickory, and even witch hazel are all having big seed crops; even some oaks are putting out a lot of acorns, depending on the species. The theory is that the trees produce enough seed to overwhelm the birds and animals eating it so that some seed remains and will grow, reseeding the forests.

Pine cones, acorns, hickory nuts, maple seeds, they are everywhere and the birds and mammals are loving it.  Think about it, when is the last time you had a squirrel in your yard?  At the Bird Store we don’t even have pigeons, and we always have pigeons!  The one good thing about all of these mast crops is that the bears, who eat approximately 15,000 calories a day to get ready for winter are not bothering the bird feeders very much because they are easily finding food sources.

Here at the Bird Store we keep our own “unofficial” records, and the last big mast year where the birds were away from the feeders was the Fall of 2017.  We can tell this by the volume of seed that we sell.  On a normal week we bring in between 6 - 8 thousand pounds of seed. (Yup, our seed is the freshest and you guys love it!).  In the past 6 weeks we have only been bringing in 1 thousand pounds of seed per week.

Lizzie Mae Bird Seed, our seed distributor has also confirmed the lack of seed deliveries across the whole eastern region, and also said that last time the deliveries were this slow was pre covid.

The good news is your seed budget got a bit of a break, and in the past week we have started to see some activity at the bird feeders again.  This is the time to make sure your feeders are clean and ready for the winter season.  The birds are scouting their food sources (your feeders) even though they may not need to feed from them right now.  They want to know where the food will be available when needed.

Links to local information on the 2023 mast crop.
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Article & video from CBS News