I recently read an article in the New York Times about hand-feeding hummingbirds. It’s fascinating, but also disturbing. It’s cute, but why is it so important to get hummingbirds to feed from your hand or a perch sticking out of a helmet on your head? These are wild creatures, not your pets.
I just returned from Florida (I was there when the hurricane hit on Oct 9, but that’s another story) where I rented a home on St. George Island, on the beach. Willets and Sanderlings were common, running up and down the sand along with the incoming surf. People were also common, as were their dogs. Sounds pleasant, and mostly it was. But I often saw little kids chasing the shorebirds or throwing sand or shells at them and dogs chasing the birds off. No one but me seemed the least disturbed by this.
Once I had a California Scrub Jay land on my hand in my front yard. Clearly someone had hand-raised it and when it escaped it ended up on me. It hung around for a few days until my neighbor’s dog killed it. Not too long after that a tame American Kestrel showed up. Not sure what happened to it but I suspect some domestic violence got it as well.
The problem with birds getting used to humans is that many humans do not respect the rights of birds to live their lives. Dogs, cats, kids with pellet guns or slingshots, adults with guns or some other weapon add to the everyday hazards birds face. Why is it that the closer we get to wildlife the less we respect it? Not everyone, of course, but lots of us find entertainment in throwing rocks at pigeons or taking potshots at robins.
Of course, there are times when people get harassed by birds swooping down on them. This happens during nesting season when birds are just trying to scare you off, believing you are a predator. Birds know when you are too close to their nest.But these “attacks” are rarely harmful. I’ve investigated birds’ nests up close and personal and have been dive-bombed hundred of times but have never been touched by a bird. No hair pulling, eye-pecking, or anything like that. Pooped on, yes, but that’s usually incidental to the actual activity.
Now there are a few birds that might justify defending oneself against – ostrich, cassowary, and emu are known to have caused injuries to people. Hawks and owls get blamed for attacks but I have found that most of those stories are simply untrue or greatly exaggerated. Check out YouTube and you’ll find all sorts of videos about hawks, owls, eagles and other birds attacking domestic animals or humans but a close examination shows that mountains were made out of molehills.
But I digress. My real point here is that we should leave wild animals alone. Enjoy them at a distance. Don’t feed them, don’t harass them, don’t invade their territories unnecessarily; just enjoy them at a distance. Watching birds in the wild, doing what they have done for millions of years, without us around, is at least as enjoyable as feeding birds from one’s hand and it’s far, far better for the birds.