The enjoyment (and hazards) of feeding birds in the summer

Published 10:19am Monday, June 27, 2011

Many people enjoy feeding birds, and at last count, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that more than 86 million Americans provide food for wild birds. This unbelievable figure is the basis for a large bird and bird-feeding industry that has resulted in a wealth of specialty shops sprouting up all over the country. These offer an excellent selection of bird seed, feeders, literature and expertise on many aspects of birds and bird feeding.

The main reason that we feed birds is that it is an enjoyable pastime. We like to watch the birds coming to our feeders and it is definitely fun.

There is little evidence that feeding birds enhances the wild populations, but bird watchers spend over a billion dollars a year on bird seed alone. Most feeding is done in the winter months, and this is the time of year that the food supply is at its lowest level.

During the summer months there is a vast abundance of natural food available to the birds around us, but some people still prefer to take their feeders down. This is supposed to encourage the birds to eat “wild food” and not rely on the food supplied.

However, as well as just watching the different species that visit the feeding station throughout the year, one can enjoy many additional aspects of bird behavior during the summer months. And the summer feeding of birds has been proven not to affect their natural food gathering tendencies.

I have previously written on the vast array of bird feeders available, and rather than go into great detail again, I should say that the best selection of feeders includes a seed tube, feeding platform, suet and thistle feeders, water, and during the summer months, a hummingbird feeder. Once you have this selection set up, you are ready to go and see what comes to dinner.

As well as the normal range of titmice, chickadees, nuthatches etc. that come in for a free meal, there are some more unwelcome visitors. To start with I am sure that no bird feeding store could stay in business without our gray furry friends, a.k.a. the gray squirrel. This friendly “tree rat” is responsible for more damaged feeders, stolen seed and general aggravation than any other animal. We spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours trying to outwit these rascals, but yes, you have guessed it. Who still has the upper hand? This is, of course, the tenacious and persistent squirrel.

Other critters that enjoy bird feeders include chipmunks, raccoons and one animal that is a bigger hazard. I am, of course, talking about the black bear. This is a growing problem throughout our area and is directly linked to the continued destruction of the mountain forests for so-called development.

When the wild food supply is depleted, the bears move into built up areas in search of food. While bears are indeed magnificent creatures, you do not really want them in the backyard destroying your bird feeders – something that has happened to me several times over the past few months. To wake up at 2 a.m. to the sound of the bird feeders hitting the ground is a little alarming, not to mention looking out at a female bear with two cubs not 10 feet from the bedroom.

This was quickly followed by an adolescent male bear cleaning up what the others had spilled. By the time I had breakfast I felt as if I had lived through a “National Geographic” special. I then had to pick up the remnants of my feeders and attempt to put them back together, while being watched by an army of birds that wanted their feeders back.

Rather than completely stopping bird-feeding, the solution to this problem was to take the feeders down every night and replace them every morning in time to the early morning feeding frenzy. A trial, I am sure, but definitely a solution I can work with.

There have been no bears this week, but I sure that they will be back to enjoy any bird feeders in the area.

Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 16 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours www.birdventures.com. He and his partner, Chris, also own and operate the Asheville Wild Birds Unlimited Store. For more information on any of the birding activities in the area, drop by the store or check his website at www.asheville.wbu.com.

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