To bird feed or to not bird feed?


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Birds bring beauty and song to our backyards. We want to welcome them and show that we are good neighbors — we care for them, appreciate their job in keeping pests at bay and want to help them in their long journeys.

 As any good host, offering a savory meal would be part of welcoming our guests. 

With the many threats — litter among them — our winged friends have to face, they truly deserve a break.

Besides planting a native garden (audubon.org/native-plants) that will naturally attract wildlife and feed them healthy foods, the Humane Society has good tips about backyard bird feeding that are worth checking out at humanesociety.org/resources/feeding-your-backyard-birds.

According to an Audubon article by Jennifer Huizen, backyard bird feeding is a common practice in the U.S. with more than 40 percent of Americans feeding their backyard birds. Seen as such a positive activity, would there be any reason not to do it?

“If a bird is classified as threatened, endangered or of special concern, that means it is struggling to survive. We must exercise extreme caution when making decisions that might affect that bird. Even if we have the best intentions, what we think might benefit a bird might actually cause unintended negative consequences,” Melissa Groo wrote in her story for Audubon. 

For various reasons, which range from attracting birds to busy roads where they most likely will get hit by a car, to contributing to the early hatching of the young and their consequent malnourishment, she concludes: “birds that have special population status due to their declining numbers should not be fed.”

 So much so that it is against the law to do it. If in doubt, birds’ status can be checked by using the IUCN Red List (iucnredlist.org) and Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds (audubon.org/bird-guide).

Also, feeding the wrong food might be harmful to birds. I just learned about the Angel Wing syndrome, a deformity to the wings of birds, mostly waterfowl, caused by “a nutritional deficiency in vitamins and minerals combined with a high level of carbohydrates and sugars” (naturemuseum.org). Birds should never be fed human food. Never feed bread or crackers to waterfowl! You might choose to feed them birdseed, barley or cracked-down corn, but never bread or similar foods. In fact, human foods are generally not a good choice to feed any bird; the food might even be toxic to them.

Getting birds to be used to humans is another point of concern. For species that are hunted, that might put birds in danger for trusting the wrong humans. In addition, birds might get too comfortable and associate people with easy treats. That might lead to nuisance or aggressive behavior when birds feel they can come to people to score their next meal.

One last point to consider. Bird feeders might attract rodents, other pests or diseases. It also might make birds vulnerable to predators, who might learn pretty quickly that birds gather at that specific spot.

The question remains and only you will know the answer. To bird feed or to not bird feed? Knowing the pros and cons should guide your decision on whether or not to feed your feathery friends.