Bird feeders seem like an easy, beneficial summer garden task. But too often bird feeders actually harm wildlife more than they help. With a little knowledge, gardeners can work for the good of both their bird-brained neighbors and their gardens.
How do bird feeders harm our feathered friends? According to a study printed in The Economist, supplemental feeding negatively interferes with the mating habits of male birds. Making it a bit of ‘the hungry bird gets the girl’, male birds fill up on easy-to-find food. This delays putting on those lovey-dovey courting displays and thus they lose out on the prime females, which have already been courted.<
Another way supplemental feeding harms birds occurs when young birds are just leaping from the nest and learning to hunt. The thought is that easy-to-find food interferes with a young bird’s instincts to find sustenance when it becomes scarce during the winter.
Bird feeders can also harm gardeners. Most meat-eating birds will have a lovely picnic on the pests terrorizing their garden. But if bird feeders offer an easy meal, then the birds will go for the feeder instead of garden pests. Even primarily seed-eating birds will go after insects when they need extra protein to feed their young--but not if bird feeders are getting in their way first.
So, is an ornithologist-minded gardener meant to completely abandon their feathered friends? Not at all! There are a few things that one can do to greatly help backyard birds.
Suet feeders at the right time of year are the most beneficial thing gardeners can do to help native birds. Suet feeders are usually a mix of rendered fats with some nuts and seeds, held in by a metal cage. A few even resist squirrels by mixing in hot pepper, which have no impact on birds but are effective at keeping away those bushy-tailed tree rats.
Gardeners should hang suet feeders in the fall, keep them filled in the winter and put them away in the spring. Suet is ideal for birds that like meat--the chickadee, titmouse, nuthatch and woodpecker. Birds will nest near this excellent food source in the winter and then take up with insects when the suet feeders are empty.
Bird baths when water is scarce also helps birds. Pop a few BTI pellets in the water if you’re nervous about breeding mosquitos. Why not have a few dusty, bare patches of lawn so that birds can take a dust bath and get rid of any niggling mites that would be biting at them?<
Choose native plants that attract wildlife. The Audubon Society has a list of the top 10 plants to choose from. Topping the list, echinacea is both attractive, drought tolerant, and a major draw for many native birds. Explore their list of Top 10 Bird-Friendly Plants for the Backyard to see even more.