According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 50 million North Americans feed birds. That amounts to more than one million tons of seed directly provided to birds every year.
As fall approaches, the avifauna (set of bird species in an area) changes with migration patterns and some people put bird feeders into operation. Bird feeders are not particularly attractive to birds in the late spring and summer as seeds are available in the wild. Also, nesting birds, even seedeaters, feed their young food with higher protein content food such as insects, worms, and grubs. Even hummingbirds feed their young insects. But fall and winter call for seeds, fruit, suet, and bird feeders.
The mortality rate of songbirds over the winter is high due to the difficulty in finding food, cold weather, predators, disease, and other factors, and research has shown that putting up bird feeders reduces the death rate from starvation. A feeder will also attract avian predators like kestrels and Sharp-shinned Hawks, but studies demonstrate that birds benefit from feeders even with predators hanging around because the birds can consume a good deal of food in a few minutes at a bird feeder. The same amount of food would take considerably longer to find and consume in the wild, giving predators a longer time to find their songbird prey.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology found that “species that use bird feeders the most tended to be doing just as well as, or better than, species that use feeders more sporadically. For example, Red-bellied Woodpeckers visit feeders regularly and are thriving, whereas Pinyon Jays visit feeders more sporadically and are showing declines. The feeder species that showed declines seem to be faced with non-feeder–related pressures, such as habitat loss.” The take-home message is that species that visit bird feeders a lot tend to be doing very well.
There are lots of kinds of foods for bird feeders, mostly seeds, in pure lots or in mixtures. Some seeds will attract certain birds and other seeds other species, and a mixture will attract a variety. If you want goldfinches, you can use nyjer seeds. If you want jays and doves, provide large sunflower seeds. Woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, and starlings are avid suet eaters. Orange halves will attract grosbeaks, mockingbirds, robins, bluebirds, catbirds, tanagers, waxwings and towhees.
There are lots of references on the web that provide information on bird food, bird feeders’ placement and maintenance, avoiding predators and pests, and other pertinent information. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one place.
Bird feeders are a great way to bring birds closer so you can learn to identify them, but another important aspect of bird feeding is the connection it makes with the world of nature. In an increasingly urbanized world where people are more connected to their electronic devices rather than the natural environment, bird feeding brings us at least adjacent to nature, if not immersed in it. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that a connection to nature, whether walking through the woods, sitting on a bench in the park, or just casually observing wildflowers benefits one in mental, physical, and spiritual ways. Watching birds makes an even closer connection because you see nature in action. The color, the competition, the variety of species, and the constant movement around a feeder can be mesmerizing. What a beautiful way to enjoy nature and relax, at least momentarily.