So long as people have been feeding birds there has been a debate whether or not this is an acceptable practice. Or even a moral one. Is your backyard feeder ruining the character of your local birds, encouraging laziness and slothful habits? Are you somehow endangering them by making things too easy for them?
I am enjoying a book that asks these very questions, and searches through the scientific research for pertinent data to lay this issue to rest, for once and all. Darryl Jones trots the globe and scours the ornithological libraries to find out how many people feed birds and what the impact might be—on the humans as well as the birds—in The Birds at My Table: Why We Feed Wild Birds and Why it Matters. He seems to be tipping his hand a little in that subtitle.
Let’s all have a conversation on this surprisingly hot topic. Please use the comment section to weigh in, pro or con, or ambivalent, or “just wondering, too.” All opinions are worthy. As I read, I will report my findings and reflections for you in a kind of serial pondering.
In her 1939 book, Birds in the Garden and How to Attract Them, Margaret begins her chapter on “Feeding Devices” by coming down unequivocally on the side of feeding birds: “There are people who say that we merely pauperize the birds by feeding them and that it is pure sentimentality on our part to want to see the birds near us.”
She then relates a story told by E.H. Forbush, State Ornithologist of Massachusetts—Margaret was always happy to have a recognized authority on her side—about how his habit of feeding birds fortuitously drew them to his orchard and thereby saved his apple crop from an insect infiltration. The birds went from feeder to trees and busily gobbled down all the encroaching pests that they might not have noticed if they weren’t already in the neighborhood. He considered that a fair exchange.
She returns to her own argument by defending so-called sentimentality by reminding readers that,“…birds often perish by the thousands during a heavy snowstorm that covers all natural food, or when there is an ice storm and all twigs and branches are sealed with a glittering armor. The bluebirds were almost wiped out a number of years ago in an unseasonal storm.If it is sentimentality to assist birds through such a time of stress, then sentimentality is a good thing. How much better to feed the birds through the year, getting them accustomed to a secure source of supply, than it would be to go out some subzero morning and find a chickadee frozen in a knothole, or the stiff form of a downy woodpecker or a brown creeper at the foot of a tree.”
Margaret went on to give detailed instructions on how to create a feeding station for birds. She followed a more do-it-yourself mode but did include information on feeders that were available by order from the National Audubon Society. She cautioned her readers to situate the feeder where it would be sheltered from cats and other predators, kept dry to preserve the food, and include fresh water and even a source of digestive grit. And in a place where the human benefactor could see the arrivals and “breakfast with the birds.” She freely acknowledged we feed the birds for our own pleasure as much as for their well-being and the health of our gardens. Is it any more complicated than that?