It’s Wild Out There…Feeding Birds and Other Things.

When we try and pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

                                                         John Muir

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Eek, we have set something big in motion. It started out harmlessly enough. All I did was set up a bird feeder in the garden after many years of not having one. When the first few finches and sparrows showed up, I was thrilled. How great  to enjoy some life in the garden this winter.

And then…. I heard the first bird hit the window and remembered the general rule about feeding birds.

General Rule: Do not feed when it might cause harm.

The first thunk did take away some of the enjoyment. That bird was only stunned but I found a junco, who was not so fortunate, upside down on the deck a few days later. I certainly had to think about bird feeder placement and protection from the wall of windows that face out to the garden.

This glitch was followed by the invasion of the squirrels. We had seen the grey squirrel busy in the front garden most of the summer and the red squirrel from the woods next door was a frequent visitor.  But these resident squirrels were quickly joined by at least four others. They can’t eat the seeds from the feeder (hello new technology), but they are more than busy enough fighting over the seeds that escape the beaks of the chattering birds congregated above.

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We have a small outdoor table that we haven’t put away yet and twice now a squirrel has scurried onto it and tried to climb the window. I’m feeling uncomfortable with all this action but my husband is, well let’s just say, more than uncomfortable. I know because he’s counting the squirrels now and letting me know as the population rises.

The finches and sparrows happily eating away were quickly joined at the feeder by chickadees and nuthatches and then the larger more assertive birds: jays, woodpeckers, and cardinals. The feeder is ablaze with colour and action these days. So much so, that as we were eating lunch the other day my husband spied a large hawk perched in the hemlock across the road eyeing the feeder. Imagine how lucky he must have felt seeing his food supply all  neatly gathered in one spot. This whole experiment wasn’t turning out to be quite as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Again refer to the general rule at the top of the page.

The thing is, as soon as we set up a feeder we tamper with the ecosystem. Birds that would normally be foraging now have a readily available supply of food and food availability  is a huge factor in bird population dynamics. Feeding the birds is a major ecological intervention and it’s important to be aware of this.

Birds congregate at bird feeders in large numbers and are in very close quarters. Because of  this, any diseases that may be present can easily be spread. (Think of how quickly flu spreads during winter months when we humans are all packed into close quarters.)

There are ways to help prevent the spread of diseases in birds just as there are in humans, but it does take a bit of an effort.  First of all, take down the feeders during the warm months and put them up again after the first hard frost. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative also suggests washing the feeder with soap, water, and a mild bleach solution every two weeks during the winter feeding season. The new plastic feeding tube feeders are ideal because they can be easily washed. My Squirrel Buster wild bird feeder, made by a local company, has other great features as well. The seeds are tucked away inside so don’t get wet and busy bird feet  are not walking over their food supply potentially contaminating it.

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Have I been deterred by any of these potential problems? Not yet. But I’m certainly aware that when we alter anything in the ecosystem we quickly find it attached to everything else.

Did I mention that you might also have some BIG surprises?

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3 thoughts on “It’s Wild Out There…Feeding Birds and Other Things.

  1. I used to have bird feeders and enjoyed the action there for many years. After taking in (yet another) stray cat who rewarded us with a litter of three, we experienced her sudden disappearance one day. Then a year later, one of the kittens disappeared. That was it for me! I took down all the feeders and have never put them back. The cats were attracted to the birds on the ground, along with mice and chipmunks. Otner larger animals are also attracted…in my area its the Fisher cat…a deadly animal introduced to this area to combat the porcupine and its devastating effects on pine trees. . Neighbours talk of seeing bears on their porches, tearing down clotheslines to reach feeders. This is my take on bird feeders.

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    1. Hi Michelle,
      These are all really important things to consider. I didn’t feed the birds for many years because of the cats I had at the time. I am very aware of how birds themselves can be endangered by gathering them all in one place at a feeder but hadn’t thought of these other predators you mention – Fisher cats and bears. My feeder will have to go whenever I have evidence that it’s no longer a safe place. Thanks for weighing in.

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