This blog post and photo come from Contributing Editor Laura Erickson. Laura's column "Attracting Birds" -- about attracting, feeding, sheltering, and understanding the birds in your backyard -- appears in every issue of BirdWatching magazine.
Read Attracting Birds.
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Feeding birds in summer is a topic fraught with controversy. Some people adamantly oppose it, fearing that birds may grow dependent on us, that summer feeding may hold migratory birds in inappropriate habitat or lure birds to their deaths in window collisions, diseases, or predation by Cooper’s Hawks or outdoor cats. They also feel concerned about baby birds receiving an inappropriate diet at a time when they need protein.
Other birders are equally adamant in defending summer feeding as a mutually beneficial and time-honored tradition, pooh-poohing the risks as no worse than birds face elsewhere.
As with many issues, both sides are partly right. Goldfinches regurgitate a slurry of seeds, and doves produce “pigeon milk” in their crops, but virtually no other feeder birds feed seeds to their young. Our feeder offerings can often supplement the food adult songbirds are getting, keeping their own nutrition level high as they search for insects to feed their young. And summer feeding provides nourishment for our own souls as we watch birds at close range. I’ve taken some of my favorite bird photos at my own feeders in summer. I set out a camouflaged tent-style photo blind and click away to my heart’s content.
But the risks of summer feeding are real. To enjoy its pleasures with a clear conscience requires attention to preventing possible hazards. Here’s what to keep in mind:
* If you see birds that may be sick, close down the feeding station.
* Make sure any windows within about 30 feet of your feeders are visible to birds or have external screening. The American Bird Conservancy now sells special tape to apply in a grid on the outside of windows to make them more visible to birds.
* If any hawks nesting in your neighborhood are hunting in your yard, you may want to close down your feeding station during the time they’re present. If you keep the feeders up, make doubly certain your windows are bird-safe.
* Keep feeders clean, birdseed dry, and hummingbird solution fresh.
Read Laura’s article about feeding hummingbirds.
* Try not to subsidize birds that are already benefitting so much by humans that they’re out of balance with other species. When crowds of House Sparrows, starlings, pigeons, or similar species visit, it is sometimes kindest for your neighborhood birds to close down the station for a couple of days.
* Finally, it’s perfectly okay for adult orioles, catbirds, robins, and other species to enjoy grape jelly now and then. But if you notice them bringing fledglings more than once or twice a day, take in the jelly for a week or so. Growing birds need diets high in proteins, not carbs but, like human children, prefer sweets and may sometimes eat more than is good for them. -- Laura Erickson, Contributing Editor
Laura Erickson writes the column Attracting Birds in every issue of BirdWatching Magazine.Read her article about feeding hummingbirds.
Read how winter finches give clues that spring is on the way.
See the contents of our June 2012 issue, on newsstands now.
One of the saddest things I encountered was the absence of any birds on a Spring day in a famous natural garden. It is a huge place, with lovely trees and azaleas everywhere. No birds. When I looked around, I noticed that the grounds, acres and acres, were mowed wherever there were no beds or trees. The lack of seed from natural weeds or grasses going to seed had eliminated the bird population on those areas. No birds, more bugs, more spray, more mowing, fewer birds. I feed year round to make up for the lack of seed producing acres represented by my neighbor's lawns. If you have a lawn, let part be wild with weeds and let some things go to seed. - Dawn