is a wonderful hobby that can bring a wide variety of birds to your backyard.
It is a positive way for people to connect directly with nature. However, there
are many bird feeding myths surrounding this great hobby that may discourage
novice birders from putting out a feeder of their own. Let’s examine several of
- Feeding makes birds dependent on feeders. While the same birds may visit your feeders regularly
as part of their daily foraging, studies have shown that wild birds only
get about 25% of their food from feeders. There are many wild food sources
that birds prefer, including seeds, grains, and fruit from native
plantings and a variety of insects. While they will visit your feeders out
of convenience, they are very capable of finding other food sources if
feeders are unavailable. Survival, after all, is the name of the game.
During periods of extreme ice, snow, or cold, the sudden disappearance of
food might be a hardship. If you are leaving town during the winter
months, consider having someone fill your feeders while you are away.
While this isn’t absolutely necessary, (i.e. they won’t starve to death,
they’ll just move to other food sources), if you leave your feeders empty,
you will need to work extra hard to lure them back when you return.
- Feeding birds keeps them from migrating. Migration is driven by instinct and external factors
such as sunlight and weather, not by the availability of seeds at bird
feeders, or lack thereof. Feeding during migration times can in fact help
the birds as they pass through your yard. Migration requires a lot of
calories for the energy necessary to fly the hundreds or thousands of
miles to their winter homes. Feeders can provide a convenient energy boost
for the passing migrants. Feeding during migration periods is also a great
time to be able to see those birds that are not year round residents. By
feeding birds in autumn, not only do birders assist migrating birds, but
they also help other migrants learn where to return to in the spring for
good food and fresh water, which will increase the size and diversity of
the backyard flock.
- You shouldn’t feed birds in the summer. While it is true that there are more natural food
sources available in the summer months, these are also the same months
when parent birds are overworked trying to provide for hungry nestlings.
Supplemental food from feeders is an easy and convenient resource for many
summer birds. Summer is also a time when there are more birds around
competing for the same food sources. By feeding throughout the summer,
you’ll enjoy many more species in your yard and the young born in or near
your yard will know where to return the following year for a reliable food
- Birds will choke on peanut butter. There is no documented evidence for this myth. Birds’
bills do not have as much saliva as human mouths, so it is less likely
that the peanut butter will get gooey and stuck to the roof. Peanut butter
is a very nutritious treat (high in calories and fat content), that many
will eat including nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and jays. If you
are still concerned with how sticky the peanut butter is, blend it with
cornmeal to make it more crumbly.
- Birds’ feet will stick to metal perches in winter. This is not likely. A bird’s legs and feet are made up
mostly of tough tendons that have little blood flow during cold weather.
They also do not have sweat glands in their feet so there is no moisture
to freeze onto the metal surface.
- Bird seed never goes bad. Just like any type of food, birdseed can spoil over
time, especially if it is stored improperly. Seed can attract pests and
rodents or become rancid with age. If it gets wet it can mold quite
easily. Eventually old seed dries out and is less appetizing to the birds.
If you store the seed properly, in a dry, cool spot and use airtight
containers that will deter rodents and insects, it can last for several
weeks or maybe months. When you refill your feeders, always check to see
that the seed is not spoiled.
- Rice can kill birds.
The myth that uncooked rice, often thrown at weddings, will swell up in
their throats and stomachs and kill birds that eat it is totally false.
Rice is a grain. Grains, seeds, and nuts are what birds have survived on
for centuries. Rice can be a nutritious addition to many birds’ diets.
Plenty of birds safely eat uncooked rice in the wild. Bobolinks, sometimes
called “rice birds”, are a good example.
- If a human touches a nest or baby bird, the parent
birds will abandon it. This myth
has been handed down from generation to generation. The fact is that most
birds have a poor sense of smell and human scent will not deter a parent
bird from returning to their nest and taking care of their nestling. In
fact, if you find a baby bird that is a nestling, the best thing you can
do is to try to get it back into the nest from which it came.
- No birds eat milo seed. The large, red milo seed found in many less expensive
bird seed mixes is often considered undesirable filler, but in fact, in the
West and particularly the Southwest, there are several species of birds
that will eat it. Quail, pigeons, doves, wild turkeys, towhees, pheasant,
and some sparrows will eat milo. If your backyard does not have many birds
that will eat milo, however, it is best to choose a mix that does not
contain this seed to prevent a build of wasted seed on the ground under
- This feeder is 100% squirrel proof! While it is true that some feeders are more squirrel
resistant than others, no feeder is 100% squirrel proof. Squirrels are
clever and very resourceful and if a feeder has a seed or food they like,
they will spend hours discovering a way to get at it, often causing
significant damage. There are ways to make your feeders more squirrel
resistant, however, and over time the squirrels can learn that certain
feeders aren’t worth the effort if other food sources are more easily
Copied from Wild Bird Country news Fall 2011 issue