*BIRDING-AUS* US Item on Backyard Bird Feeding and Impacts

Subject: *BIRDING-AUS* US Item on Backyard Bird Feeding and Impacts
From: John Gamblin <>
Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2001 23:39:30 -0800 (PST)
G'day L and Elle,

Well I've been told your lovely lady is better looking
then the other Elle, but what I would love once and
for all is to have a final debate on backyard bird
feeding? as I firmly believe I have the ultimate
answer to those that frown deeply about this
particular issue?

I am very pro to putting out the correct foods as my
own way of saying sorry to birds for what once grew
and lived in the space that my home now occupies, and
what I as a human uses. It's not only trees and shrubs
that disappear when we build homes, factories,
airports and highways etc., etc., but all that goes
with changing their environment, be it our local
environment or further afield.

Anyway before I let it all out what I have now found
... I'll wait to see what this email does? many
sincere thanks for raising this debate issue it's been
festering for far too long and needs once and for all
to be put to sleep.
Laurie & Leanne Knight <> wrote:

This item is written for a different context and
culture, but has a bit of food for thought.

November 30, 2001
Inviting Birds for Dinner (But Not to Be Eaten) By

We were late setting up our bird feeders this season.
I put them out only a few days ago. So far, our only
visitors have been juncos and a chickadee. As the
winter comes, and the birds find the seed or remember
that we're a soft touch, I expect the usual crowd: two
pairs of cardinals, nuthatches (which I love to watch
come down a tree trunk upside down), finches, jays,
titmice, sparrows, the odd woodpecker, some pigeons,
doves, starlings and, of course, the squirrels. I
think of our family as middlebrow bird feeders. We're
not lowbrow. We've moved beyond supermarket seed
mixes. We have a feeder just for thistle seed. We've
had a special ground feeder (now wrecked by squirrels
and weather and in need of replacement) and a hanging
feeder that has a counterweighted perch for the birds.
When a squirrel lands, the extra weight causes the
perch to drop, bringing down a cover that blocks the
seed tray. Nevertheless, I still buy commercial
mixtures. I don't buy the seed in bulk. I know that
there's one kind of sunflower seed that's better than
another, but I always have to ask the person at the
garden shop which one it is. I'm hit and miss with the
suet, and I haven't spent much time considering the
myriad issues ? technical, ethical and ecological ? in
feeding birds. And I haven't reached the level of the
truly highbrow, hard-core bird lovers who have moved
beyond feeders to fill their yard with plants that
birds love, turning their whole yard into a
self-sustaining feeder.

I should point out at the start, to avoid dashed
expectations, that I'm not going to talk about
defeating squirrels. I believe that this is an
impossibility. And a discussion of why people think
that birds deserve our attention and support, and
squirrels don't, could fill volumes. I am more or less
squirrel-tolerant. I have feeders that discourage them
and I spread seed around on the ground to distract
them. Squirrels aside, bird feeding is complicated. In
a small way, multiplied many times, people who feed
birds step into the natural order and, at the very
least, give it a nudge. Of course, if you're setting
up a bird feeder, you already live in an area where
the natural world has been turned upside down. But the
point of bird feeders seems to be to help birds. We
want to be setting things right in a small way. Part
of it is for our amusement, but there's always a
feeling of virtue in feeding other creatures. So the
biggest question is: who benefits the most, the birds
or the people feeding them? I called Stephen W. Kress,
the author of several books on feeding birds and
birding and the National Audubon Society's vice
president for bird conservation, to ask him whether
bird feeders really help birds. "The benefits to the
people may outweigh the benefits to the birds," Mr.
Kress said.

He pointed out that birds are very well adapted to
surviving the winter, that only a small percentage eat
seed and suet, and that birds have done well for many
thousands of years without feeders.


and he said that certainly, individual birds benefited
from the feeders. And for the birds that like the
seeds we put out, extra food is always a help in
extreme temperatures and heavy snow. With feeders,
"we're probably tilting things a bit in their favor,"
he said.

NOT much considering what other occupations humans
partake in though.

That said, you have to consider the unintended
consequences, of which squirrels are an obvious
example. Feeders may also favor birds like jays and
grackles, Mr. Kress said. They are big and aggressive,
will eat anything and may prey on the young of other
birds in the spring. The feeders may also be
attractive to cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other
birds' nests, thus avoiding the struggle and strife of
rearing their own young, but still managing to spread
their genes.

This is where biology and human morality, or perhaps
sentimentality, meet in a tangled web. Parasitism and
thievery are greatly honored by natural selection, as
much as observers may find those behaviors
unpalatable. In our family we have a divided opinion
on jays. I like
them; my wife doesn't. They're smart and quick, with
an eye for the main chance. And I don't see why they
shouldn't benefit as well as the goldfinches. I think
of them and other disreputable creatures as animal
versions of Alfred P. Doolittle, the father of Eliza
Doolittle in "Pygmalion" (and, of course, "My Fair
Lady"). When he is trying to cadge money from
Henry Higgins, essentially to sell the rights to his
daughter, he speaks of the plight of the un-deserving
poor, a group in which he claims membership. He points
out that charity always goes to the deserving poor,
not to him and others like him. But, he says: "I don't
less than a deserving man: I need more. I don't eat
less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more."

No doubt something similar is true for un-deserving
birds, like jays, gulls and crows. I think our family
does our part for all those birds. Sometimes our
garbage bags overflow the cans. Or an overzealous dog
knocks them over and tears into them. This is a great
benefit to sharp-eyed crows, as a neighbor pointed out
a few winters ago, when I had just finished filling
the feeders with seed. He asked me if I was going to
work on the "crow feeder" next. Mr. Kress said,
however, that the issue is not preference for one
species over another, but an attempt to make sure that
human actions are not putting certain species at risk.
There is some
concern, he said, that favoring resident,
opportunistic species like jays or gulls can be bad
for migratory birds that don't use feeders and may
suffer predation.

A warbler, for instance, has no use for a feeder but
may well have its nest attacked by jays. It's not at
all clear that feeders are having a negative effect,
Mr. Kress added, but the question is being discussed
and studied. In any case, there's not much to be done
about jays. If you put up feeders, they will come. And
they are not a big problem.

The two biggest feeder-induced causes of death for
birds are "cats and windows," Mr. Kress said. "People
should not feed birds if they have cats outside".

There are some ways to discourage cats, like keeping
dogs or laying chicken wire on the ground near the
feeders. A large, free-running dog tends to keep the
cats away, and birds are generally unimpressed by
canine barking, posturing and headlong charges.
Windows are the other death trap. If they are big and
clean, birds fly into them. Taping fluttering paper to
the glass is one way to warn birds away. An excellent
solution, Mr. Kress said, is to stretch
Windows are the other death trap. If they are big and
clean, birds fly into them. Taping fluttering paper to
the glass is one way to warn birds away. An excellent
solution, Mr. Kress said, is to stretch fine-mesh
fruit tree netting over the outside of the window. The
birds literally bounce off. Our house is O.K. on this
count. For one thing, we're a bit behind on the window
cleaning. For another, we have an old house, and our
windows have many mullions. Birds don't fly into our
house, but they do sometimes nest in it. We used to
have baby starlings falling down an unused chimney
pretty regularly until we put a protective cover on
the top. It's exciting to have a bird flying around
the house. Dogs bark; people shout directions; the
bird starts to panic; people tell everyone else to
quiet down; the dogs keep barking; and finally,
someone manages to steer the bird out through an
opening. Anyway, that's the way it happens in our
house. Probably the big reason that groups like the
Audubon Society offer advice and support to people who
feed birds is that setting up feeders fosters interest
in birds and conservation. Feeders can also give you
the opportunity to do research in a small way.

Mr. Kress is associated with the Cornell Laboratory of
Ornithology, a nonprofit organization affiliated with
Cornell University. The Cornell lab has a number of
so-called citizen science projects, like Project
Watch, which encourages people with feeders to send in
information on what they see, and the Great Backyard
Bird Count, which takes place in February.

One researcher successfully used feeder watchers to   
track the spread of a disease afflicting house

One hope of Mr. Kress and others is that people who
start with bird feeders will move on to bird

He has written a book called "The Bird Garden," which
is now part of the larger volume "The Audubon Backyard
Birdwatcher" (Thunder Bay Press).


JAG says I'll do my best to get some copies as quiz
prizes if I can. "Food for thought" tisk tisk tisk
your not well Laurie, please go lie down for a little
while mate :^D

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