TO FEED OR NOT TO FEED, THAT IS THE QUESTION

I usually feed the birds all year round, especially because so many of them breed on our property. There are always babies that need a little extra food and a lady bird full of eggs who need something special to perk up her appetite. But the spring also brings birds whose presence I do not want to encourage. It used to be the doves but I seem to have convinced the doves to feed on the ground and not hog the feeders. The very small — adolescent doves — can use the small flat feeder, but our cage feeders are too small for doves. And they really can’t perch. They are shaped wrong.

This morning, Owen put out the suet feeders. Suet appeals to most birds whether they are seed eater or insectivores — or both. It is especially attractive to our two thrushes — Robins and Bluebirds — both of whom are exclusively insectivores.

Also to our woodpeckers. We have Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers who look the same except for size, but aren’t really related and the Red-Bellied Woodpecker who doesn’t have a red belly but does have a red head. But he can’t be called a Red-headed Woodpecker because some other woodpecker already bears that name. We also have the Pileated Woodpecker, but they aren’t feeder birds. They eat bugs in the dying trees and are they are huge — about the size of a large hawk. I have pictures of them because sometimes we see them tearing huge chunks of bark off sickly oak and maples. They are impressive birds.

Anyway, when Owen looked around, all he could see were lurking Brown-headed Cowbirds. Cowbirds, like European Cuckoos, do not nest. Instead, they drop eggs in the nests of other birds, usually destroying whatever eggs were already there. Some birds will raise the chicks, others recognize the eggs are not theirs and destroy them. One way or the other, cowbirds really mess up the breeding cycle of other birds — and they are gorgers and aggreessive to all the other birds. Feeding them encourages them to continue their invasion. Owen decided to not put out any seed. Cowbirds can’t perch, so they can’t hook onto the suet feeders.

So, for now, the suet feeders are out and the seeds are not. I feel bad about it, but there is food out there and it’s not so bad to let the birds remember they are wild. I won’t always be here to feed them. I am frequently reminded of this because our friend across the street was also a bird feeder, but he died and all his birds moved to our side of the road.

So, for now, at least until the cowbirds go away, we’re holding back on the seeds. The birds aren’t going to starve, so why do I feel guilty? It’s the same guilt I feel when our not-so-scrawny (actually rather beefy) dog begs for food pretty much all the time. Even though it is very obvious that he doesn’t need the food, the look of hope in his eyes gets me every time.



Categories: #Birds, #Photography, bluebirds, Nature, Spring, Woodpeckers

Tags: , ,

17 replies

  1. I feed all year and now feed down at the allotment too. At home here in Willow l have a very distinct pattern of birds that feed from me and edward next door has a different set of birds. I have all the bigger birds as well as a resident robin pair and a few sparrows and wrens but mostly feral piggies, jackies, maggies, woodies, blackybees, starlings, thrushes and occasionally doves. On the even odder occasion l even have kestrels land in the garden.

    Whilst the allotment has woodpeckers, long tailed tits, wrens, blackybees, blue tits, robins, maggies, bullies, sparrows, wrens, great tits and warblers too.

    I love seeing all the birds come and go but it’s a nice relief also to see more smaller birds down at the allotment. I don’t have to feed especially down at the allotment but l like to keep the diversity present there.

    Beautiful photos 🙂

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    • The cowbirds are a real pain because they are so aggressive AND because they destroy the nests of other birds. They aren’t big enough to get rid of by using different feeders — as we did with the super protective gorging doves. At least they don’t eat the suet. But I really don’t want to encourage them, especially not to nest here. And short of NOT feeding them, I have no idea what else I can do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Such beautiful visitors you enjoy!
    And I hear you, very difficult to not feed those who pop in – critters and people alike!

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  3. 5 pro quality shots Marilyn !!!!!

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    • It really helps when the bird stands STILL for me! And the light is right, of course. Bright sunlight totally ruins sharpness — all that reflection is a killer. And thank you. These came out really well — especially considering I shot them through a none too clean glass panel in a French door.

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  4. This bird definitely caught my eye. Anita

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  5. I love the bluebird pics too! 💙

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  6. The bluebird photos are so sweet. Look at that last photo–he’s got dancing feet! What a wonderful capture, Marilyn.

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