BirdWatching Column: Summer Feeding

Published on Aug. 15, 2012 by BirdWatching

Summer Bird Feeding 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.

Others 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.

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 neighborhood hawks are nesting in your neighborhood 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.

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 a visit, it is sometimes kindest for your neighborhood birds to close down the station for a couple of days.

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.