Seems it is…in a big way.
On the advent of the Great Backyard Bird Count, there still is many that think it is bad practice in artificial dependency to feed the birds. Contrary, the reality is that many birds, as adapted as they are, teeter-totter between life and death often in winter in many cold regions around the world.
Some will succumb due to weather conditions or lack of available feeding habitat. Birds everywhere are in decline as noted in the statistics below, attributable to many reasons, one of which is habitat loss. As an example of altered feeding behavior…
Do you realize that our past summer droughts and early onset freezes have greatly affected the available food sources of our feathered friends from Canada southward? Natural sources were depleted and did not produce. So…
Birds such as Pine Siskins and Red Breasted Nuthatch are in search much farther south than their natural range. This is contrary to findings of other bird species in other regions. This information is relevant to our area and is provided from an interview with Marilyn O’Connell, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited. Has your bird count found this to be true?
Nearly 60 percent of the 305 relatively widely distributed species found in North America in winter are on the move, shifting their ranges northward by an average of 35 miles based on the past 40 years of citizen-science Christmas Bird Count data. (source)
Another behavior change a few continents away… the pied flycatchers, a common migratory bird, “are missing their spring meals and dying as a result of climate change.” By breeding a week earlier, the birds and the insects they feed their young get out of sync. By arriving a week late to breeding grounds, they run into not having sufficient time to breed to raise young.
So do you think the birds need a helping hand?
If you were a two ounce creature outdoors in 9° weather and you had to maintain a body temperature of 104°F, would you not take the free handouts too?
Birds search on the average between four and six hours each day in their natural habitat, and the cold of winter drains their fat supplies nightly. They lose about 10% of their body weight each night trying to keep warm and extended cold spells spell disaster.
Can birds survive without our hard-earned dollars and daily efforts? Sure they can, except when they can’t. Some will suffer as I mentioned above from poor summer growth of their natural seed-producing plants and subsequent loss of insects attracted to the native plants.
In my own garden this past summer, the viburnum set berries, but they shriveled from summer drought before of use to the birds. Can you see that happening widespread?
Oh, and the Haters
Some communities, neighborhood associations and local governments have attempted to ban bird feeding, or at least discourage it. They base reasoning on attracting undesirable creatures such as rats and mice, to avian predators such as hawks and eagles, to nuisance birds such as Cow Birds, Crows, Starlings, and our small House Sparrows, currently on endangered watch lists around the world.
Also detractors cite transmission of communicable diseases passed among healthy birds at busy feeders (not that they have a clue) and play on those news headlines of starlings and red-winged blackbirds dropping from the sky.
Are these same organizations also going to ban seed producing plants and trees?
Trees also drop fruit and seed for the rodents. Fruiting trees make a big decaying mess (Ginko biloba) and create offensive odors sometimes too. Most decorative city trees installed are non-fruit bearing varieties like the purple-leaf plum. Would it not be great to walk out for lunch and pick an apple? It would help urban bird populations too.
Backyard feeding has other benefits to birds beside the obvious.
Another fact of which you might not be aware, is birds produce larger clutches of eggs due to better health maintained throughout the winter. Below is one of the birds fledged last year in my yard.
Some species of Common Birds have nose-dived as much as 80 percent, and all 20 birds included in the Common Birds in Decline report have lost at least 50 percent of their population – in just four decades. (source)
It really makes one think. And we keep feeding.. all 65 million of us in the US.
Birds seem to predict stormy weather. Many species increase feeding prior to a storm, intensely and furiously feeding just before bad weather rolls in.
That little woodpecker below is one of my best weatherman. So nice of him to pose, no? There are six of them, also some hatched here last year. They all battle over the suet before a big storm arrives.
Did you know birds can only store enough calories in fat to last for 16 to 24 hours on average? Take a look at the evening feeder panic that happens just before sunset. The birds are grabbing as much seed as possible right before it gets dark and then again first thing at morning light.
But is casual feeding enough?
Next time a bird comes pecking at your door (window in my case), fill those feeders.
In an upcoming post, I will show more birds and have additional cold weather info on our feathered friends. Some information might surprise you in How Do Birds Keep Warm in Winter?.
Who needs flowers in winter? Hope your bird counting is successful and your birds, many.
Are the kids counting? If not, here is something from The Great Backyard Bird Count just for the little ones. Color the birds! They are really cute. It gave me an idea what to do with my bird illustrations too.
Want more birds visiting you and tips on photographing them in pretty portraiture? See my series Deep in the Season of Down. Get those photos to send into the GBBC.