Home > Articles > Dispelling Bird Feeding Myths

Birding 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 these.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 source.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 your feeders.
  10. 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 available.

Copied from Wild Bird Country news Fall 2011 issue