Monday Morning Mystery 011623
Update: Cool New Nature Book Club

My Column: Feed Birds or Don't?

My latest column for The Record is all about when to feed birds -- and when not to. With a White-breasted Nuthatch photo by Alan Pomerantz. (Thanks, Alan!)

By Jim Wright

Special to The Record

  To feed birds or not? That’s a perennial question, -pamrjt82i2yeaitj-1 (1)and there are no simple answers.

  I write this because of an otherwise excellent article in The Record last week, ”10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Feed Wildlife This Winter.” It gave short shrift to our avian neighbors. 

   Although the freelance writer Gene Ware stated that “feeding wildlife does more harm than good,” he was referring mostly to white-tailed deer and other critters – not woodpeckers and goldfinches. 

    As for birds, he writes only that “large concentrations of geese and ducks can add to pollution near waterways. Some waterfowl species can drop up to a pound of feces a day.”  That’s an excellent point, but much more needs to be said – especially about backyard birds. 

    Here’s my advice:

    It is perfectly OK to feed birds in the winter – or any time of year – with four important exceptions. 

   * Never feed ducks or geese. The reason is simple. You will gradually turn a wild bird tame, and it loses its natural defenses. When I go to a park and I see the Canada geese or mallards swimming toward me when they instinctively should be swimming away, I know people are feeding them. Ugh.

   *Never feed pigeons in your yard. Feeding pigeons in urban parks is a time-honored tradition, but doing so in your yard is inviting trouble. It is also unfair to your neighbors. What pigeons do to statues in parks they will also do to any nearby roof, deck or patio.  That’s why some municipalities have ordinances against feeding pigeons. 

   * If you scatter birdseed on the ground, do so judiciously. Any uneaten seed will likely attract mice and rats. Not good.

  * Never feed birds bread or similar baked goods. Bread has no nutritional value and  will attract vermin as well.

     One other note: If your feeder is attracting other wild animals, especially white-tailed deer, you need to put a stop to it. Either take down your feeders or add a blend of bird seeds that includes hot pepper. 

    The blend won’t affect birds but it will deter the deer, which will also destroy your native plants and trees. North Jersey is overrun with these tick magnets. Never feed them, even inadvertently.  

    The other question that arises regarding feeding birds is whether it’s a good idea any time of year.  A few years back, an Australian professor  wrote the definitive book on the subject, “Birds at My Table: Why We Feed Wild Birds and Why It Matters.”  

  The author, Darryl Jones, ultimately concluded: “We think our feeders are for the birds. Our feeders are actually for us. But the birds don’t seem to mind. They continue to willingly bring their lives into ours by visiting, and so offer us wonder, hope, knowledge and pleasure.”

I’m with Jones.

    The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. His next book, "The Screech Owl Companion," will be published by Timber Press. Email Jim at [email protected].