by Pat Jaquith
With the onset of colder weather and more time inside, many of us start to feel sorry for the birds out there in the cold and fill up the feeders. Inviting avian visitors certainly has its rewards. Observing bird activity lifts our spirits; having birds close enough to get repeated good looks improves our ability to identify them; we feel like we’ve provided a bit of refuge them. There’s a thrill in seeing a new bird at your feeder! But with all such gestures comes responsibilities, unexpected outcomes and sometimes consequences.
Perhaps one of the most dangerous consequences of feeding birds is that bears or other predators can be attracted. Bears’ sense of smell is legendary. Various sources say Black bears can smell a food source from one to two miles away. Every year, we read of incidents of bears getting into garbage, bird feeders, homes… called in by the aroma. Recommendation: DON’T feed between April 1 and December 1 (at least). Bears relish hummingbird feeders as well as suet or seed, seed dropped on the ground, and stored seed if they can access it. Clean up thoroughly under feeders when you bring them in by April 1. Remaining seed and particles like shells ferment and that aroma is irresistible. I happened to see the above bear just wandering through. It didn’t stop. I hope that indicates we hadn’t left anything that smelled good.
Yes, Sharp-shinned Hawks predate on songbirds. This one had done its homework! I kept a pan of water near the garden for the birds when it was hot and dry this summer; it seemed that a flock of Pine Siskins opened their eyes every morning and said, “Let’s get a drink!” Sharpie said, “I’ll have a surprise for you when you get here today!” Birds are pretty adept at avoiding predators, but Sharpie probably had success at gathering spots somewhere and knew what to look for.
This little owl is another songbird predator that does his homework! But I think he didn’t take into account that the birds aren’t coming to frozen water! Maybe he knows that in winter I hang out bird feeders, and he thought snow meant it was time! No breakfast for him here today! It isn’t December 1 yet!
House finches are subject to an eye disease called Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis that can cause blindness. This infection can be spread by an infected bird. Places like bird feeders where birds congregate can be a source for distributing the condition. You can help prevent the spread of diseases by keeping your feeders clean. Fortunately I had read about this infection; I consulted Cornell Lab of Ornithology online and found instructions for cleaning and bringing in the feeders for a while to break the cycle of infection. I’ve only observed it once, but paying close attention to individuals can help you protect them.
If you want to provide a service to the birds without the consequences of putting out seeds, providing water (heaters are available if you want to do it in winter), and planting gardens with flowers or other plants that birds enjoy are some alternatives, but think about what other animals might also find those plantings attractive. Flathead Audubon could be a helpful resource for bird information. flatheadaudubon.org has a format for leaving a question and someone will get back to you.