A brown speckled wren wiggles its way in and out of the screened suet feeder. Every now and then he flies over to the deck railing, shakes his head to remove the fat from his rather long beak and then makes his way back to the suet. Overlooking this wren, are twenty-eight mourning doves perched in a nearby leafless maple tree. There are many daily visitors feeding at the other couple of feeders. These visitors include, gold and purple finches in their winter colors, pine siskins, colorful male and female cardinals, tufted titmouse, black eyed juncos, house sparrows, chickadees, downy woodpecker, blue jays, red bellied woodpecker, and many other types. Most of these birds spend the year here to include winter, nesting and perching in nearby foliage. The foliage provides protection from harsh weather and predators, while the bird feeders provide a source of food, especially during extremely cold temperatures when food sources are limited.
Across the United States there are over 65 million households providing food for wild birds. Is this a good thing? As with most topics, there are always two sides to the conversation. Bird feeders can attract predators, both wild and domesticated. Certainly, hawks or other predatory birds can be drawn to gatherings of song birds. There is a hawk that frequently is spotted around this area of Webster Lake in Massachusetts. He has perched on our deck and feeders occasionally. Other than seeing him, the way we know he is around is everything is quiet and the other birds disappear. Eventually he takes off and seeks dinner elsewhere. Once gone, the birds return. They seem to have an instinct to seek cover when a predator is in the area. The best cover for birds is surrounding vegetation. We can provide protection by planting flowers, scrubs, and trees in the vicinity. These plantings serve multiple purposes for the birds in that they provide food, protection, and a place to nest.
Certain types of birds travel and live in flocks. As with humans, most diseases are spread amongst birds when they are near each other. Various types of finches are known to congregate in large numbers at feeders. In this situation, diseases can be easily spread. The way to reduce this possibility is to keep some distance between feeders. Also, clean the feeders and surroundings on a regular basis. Discard wet and old food. These simple actions will help reduce the risk of spreading disease among your feathered friends.
There are some basic rules to follow for those of us that love to feed our birds. Larger feeders are better than smaller ones. This ensures the birds have a consistent supply of food. Multiple feeders are another solution. Our friends do need to stock up on calories to make it through those long cold winter nights. Nutritious and high energy seeds and suet are great. Suet is considered high energy because it consists of high calorie fat. Same as us, eating fat means more calories. In the case of birds, they burn it off trying to stay warm. Water is critical. Birds still need access to water in the winter and often it is hard to find due to the freezing temperatures. The more water you can provide, the better to keep your visitors from becoming dehydrated.
A lesson learned is that not everyone loves birds as some of us do. I was sitting on our deck one warm spring morning, enjoying the chorus of song birds in the surrounding trees. A visitor of ours commented on how it was never quiet. I understood the point, but my preference is to listen to those beautiful songs. One of my favorite singers is the Baltimore oriole when he drops in for a visit. Last year, they were around for several weeks. Other occasional visitors include blue herons, rose breasted grosbeaks, cow birds, flickers, blue birds, mallards, and others. All of them are welcome in our yard, whether they are here for a quick bite or staying for the long haul.