A cardinal is one of the regular visitors to feeders all over New England.

A cardinal is one of the regular visitors to feeders all over New England.

Last week, we covered bird feeder topics including choosing a feeder, what seeds work, and where feeders should be placed. If you missed it, check the archives. And don’t forget to follow SaNfaP on Facebook!

4. BREAD IS NOT GOOD FOOD FOR BIRDS. Sorry, but it’s true. Bread comes with several problems: it gets moldy, which is not good for birds at all. Second, like bread for humans, it’s really not a particularly good source of nutrition. Don’t get me wrong: I love bread. My life without pizza would be a desolate wasteland. But please, don’t feed it to birds. Third, most of what you’re likely to attract will be squirrels and pigeons. And do we really need to see more of them?

Remember, too that table scraps, particularly those which may contain grease, fats, or meats, are asking for trouble. Not only will you attract the aforementioned undesirables, but you will also be paid a visit from much nastier critters, such as rats.

5. I SET UP MY NEW FEEDER AND HAVEN’T GOTTEN ANY BIRDS. SOMETHING MUST BE WRONG. Patience. There are many possible reasons for the lack of visitors. First and foremost, if you haven’t fed them in the past, birds will have to locate your feeder. This may take ten minutes or several days, depending on your surroundings. Chickadees and cardinals are both pretty bold, so these may be the first ones to visit. After that, other birds will pick up on the fact that you’re open for business and will gladly patronize your fine establishment.

Still, there are times when visitors may simply stop coming. Every winter, I hit a space of time (sometimes more than one) when the birds simply stop coming. This is a maddening phenomenon, but unlikely to last more than a week. Your birds may have discovered another feeder somewhere, some tasty berries from a nearby holly, or perhaps new insect activity that has captured their attention. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they’ll be back.

6. IF I STOP FEEDING BIRDS IN THE WINTER, THEY WILL DIE. No. Uh-uh. This misconception has been around for many, many years, but has been disproven. Yes, birds that visit your feeder will become habituated to coming. All animals will naturally gravitate toward an easy meal; it’s part of the survival instinct. However, there’s a difference between habituation and dependence.

Even as they are steadily feeding on your seed, they are still retrieving nourishment from other sources. Insects such as certain moths spend their winters in the bark of trees; other insects will continue to fly (and be eaten), even in the coldest temperatures. And there is a wealth of plant life, even if dry and brown, to provide birds with the nourishment from seed pods that they need to do just fine. The birds flourished before you started feeding, because the knowledge of how to survive is in their DNA. They will be fine if you stop. The one exception to this is in the event of a sudden ice storm. A thick coating of ice on everything outdoors could spell disaster to birds. Wait for a melt to halt the feeding.

Double feeder setup with a suet cake in a squirrel-proof cage and a tube feeder. Clockwise from left are Carolina Wren, Black-Capped Chickadee, and Tufted Titmouse.

Double feeder setup with a suet cake in a squirrel-proof cage and a tube feeder. Clockwise from left are Carolina Wren, Black-Capped Chickadee, and Tufted Titmouse.

Related to that is whether you should stop feeding birds once warm weather gets here. Again, this is a matter of personal preference. Some people may like to get their lawns green again without the bare spots that sometimes occur beneath a feeder. If so, by all means stop feeding in the spring. Others may feel reluctant to feed because they see feeding as unnecessary, and stop to save money. This, too is fine. However, do not stop because of some notion that it will somehow hurt the birds. That season’s fledglings are born with the same DNA mentioned in the previous paragraph. They will not suffer from some fatal ignorance if, soon after fledging, they discover that you’re still in business. I feed my birds all year ‘round, because I love seeing the change in species that happens from one season to the next.

7. I CAN’T PUT UP A FEEDER, SO I GUESS I’M OUT OF LUCK. There are many reasons you may not be able to put up a feeder: you’re in an apartment, there are restrictions, or you have your own limitations that prevent you from putting one up. All is not lost! If you have access to a computer, you can watch birds. A quick Google search of “bird feeder cam” turned up dozens of sites that feature cameras trained on bird feeders that are streamed live from many parts of the world. One of the best bird sites online is www.allaboutbirds.org, the web site of Cornell University’s well known school of ornithology. As I write this, I’m keeping an eye on a nesting Great Horned Owl on a live webcam from Savannah, GA. There are a dozen choices on this web site alone, from a family’s back yard in Ontario to the Laysan Albatross from Hawaii. A nice bonus is that most of these have sound as well as video, so you can eavesdrop on the squeaks, squawks, and squeals the birds in the area are making. Of course, if you do this at work as I do, you may want to turn the volume down, lest your coworkers think you’re reenacting a scene from a Hitchcock movie in your cubicle.

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