For the Birds Radio Program: Ways we can help birds

Original Air Date: Aug. 10, 1989

Laura lists several ways we can help birds.

Audio missing


Ways We Can Help Birds

(Recording of a Purple Finch)

Birds give people far more than people give birds. Most of us eat birds—wild or domesticated—and their eggs. We decorate our hats with their feathers, and our homes with artwork of their images. Our language is studded with avian idioms—we speak of eating like a bird, watching the world through eagle eyes, strutting like a cock, as the crow flies, yet never in the history of the world has a bird needed to improve its language with references to us. Birds provide many of us with one of the only connections we have with the natural world.

Most people would be delighted to pay back some of our obligation to birds, but don’t know quite how. And many well-meaning people, without ever intending to, cause birds to suffer and die. There are some positive things we can do to make our avian neighbors happier and safer.

First of all, plant a tree. Natural plantings, like dogwood, mountain ash, and other berry-producing woody plants, provide both food and shelter for birds. And so many large shade trees are being lost to disease in northland cities that every new tree is an enormous help for birds, who nest in the branches and feed their babies the inchworms and other insects on the leaves. Planting trees not only helps neighborhood birds, it also increases conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen, which makes the world more livable for humans as well as birds. Another important way to help birds is to keep our cats indoors, especially during summer when baby birds are around. If the thought of keeping kitty trapped inside makes you feel guilty, I’d be happy to show you some birds torn apart by sweet pet cats who would have been just as happy chasing a yarn ball around a house. Every single day of the year cats kill 1.2 million birds in Wisconsin’s agricultural areas alone—and in so doing are themselves exposed to feline leukemia, distemper, and other horrible diseases. Also, cats that kill birds are the worst carriers of toxoplasmosis, a dangerous disease for people, especially newborns and pregnant women.

If you set out a bird bath and feeders, make sure you keep them clean. Remember, birds get their drinking water as well as their bathing water from a bath, and so it should be rinsed out daily. If that’s too much bother, don’t fill it with water in the first place. Change the water in hummingbird feeders at least every two days—I just read a report that hummingbirds get enlarged livers from sugar water that has sat out for just 48 hours—by that time the natural fermentation process has converted enough sugar to alcohol to be harmful. Always use sugar, not honey, in a hummingbird feeder—a natural fungus that grows in honey is lethal to hummingbirds.

Learn to live with dandelions and insects, or study organic techniques for getting rid of them. Most of the chemicals used by lawn services are still on the waiting list to be approved by the E.P.A.—unlike drugs for humans, pesticides are considered innocent until proven guilty, and the chemical and lawn care companies are allowed to expose humans and wildlife to toxic chemicals for decades before any official assessment is made.

Most things that we can do for birds make the world a little nicer for all of us, from planting trees to finding alternatives to toxic lawn chemicals. And the very act of looking out for creatures dependent on our good will for survival makes us finer human beings, and our world a truly kinder, gentler one.

(Recording of a Purple Finch)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”