Observing and Feeding Birds

Red-bellied woodpecker, rain-soaked and hungry. Shallow depth of field.There are nearly 10,000 species of birds in the world. If you are going to pursue birdwatching in the U.S., California is second only to Texas in the number of bird species seen.

Even without leaving your domicile, you can see different birds and observe the changes in the set of species over the year (ornithologists call a set of bird species “avifauna”).  If you haven’t paid much attention to birds, try a little exercise during your walk to or from work or school or while running to the grocery store or pharmacy, slow your pace a bit and try to see what kinds of birds you can see. I don’t expect you to identify them – just note the different ones. I think you will be surprised at how many you see – even walking downtown. You might not be able to identify each species, but you’ll know one is different from another, most likely.

As fall approaches, the avifauna changes and some people put their 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 and nesting birds feed their young food with higher protein content such as insects, worms, and grubs. Even hummingbirds feed their young insects.

Speaking of feeding hummingbirds, three questions are common. First, will red dye in a hummer feeder harm the birds? There is no evidence that red dye is harmful, but it is not necessary either. The birds will find the nectar source in any case, but putting something red, like a ribbon, will attract them faster. Second, how concentrated should the sugar solution be? Most people say 4:1 water to sugar. I would, however, suggest 5:1 because it is closer to the concentration found in many flowers and because if the solution is too concentrated, sugar crystals will form on the bill and perhaps attract bacteria. Finally, there is no rule about when to take down a hummingbird feeder in the winter. Birds are induced to migrate south because the day length  shortens, not because the food supply diminishes. A good food supply and good weather may delay their departure, but will not stop it.

There is a high death rate of songbirds over the winter due to lack of food, cold weather, predators, disease, and other factors, but studies have shown that putting up bird feeders reduces the death rate from starvation. And bird feeders are a great way to bring birds closer so you can learn to identify them.


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