The Birds Need Us

I’ve seen it said, in more than one article over the years, that backyard feeders aren’t needed, that the birds can fend for themselves and find enough food foraging in nature. In our current state of habitat loss and climate change, I think we should be rejecting towards any argument based on “everything is fine” for our struggling species, someplace else. That formula for avoiding habitat action has been around for decades.

The naturalist Edwin Way Teale, in Autumn Across America, wrote about the decline of the sea otter, which at the time (1950s) was making a comeback. Sea otters had been hunted to near extinction for the fur trade. As Teale recounts, the trade maintained that somewhere on planet Earth must be other populations of sea otters; that if they finished off the Pacific Northwest population, an abundance of other otters would be discovered to make up for it.

The Ivory-billed woodpecker was steadfastly stripped of its habitat. As recently as 2005 sightings were being claimed, that haven’t yet panned out to a certified rediscovery of the species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in 2021 ruled the Ivory-billed extinct. This loss, also, came about on the strength of believing no single instance of habitat destruction had to be decisive. Somewhere there would be habitat; somewhere, then, magic belief could continue to place unseen remnants of endangered birds’ populations.

Now, we have a patchwork of wild areas, often widely separated by highways, farm fields, towns, industrial sites. Birds expend a lot of energy when they have to fly miles to find food. Not knowing where food might be, they can lose the gamble, and damage their health going too far without a resting place of insects and seeds, water and shelter, to restore themselves.

Insects are in steep decline, due to pesticides. Without insects, breeding birds can’t feed their young, and insectivorous birds can’t feed at all. New weather patterns, and more severe weather, which we are all aware are happening right now, stress wildlife. Heavy winds and rains stop birds and small mammals from foraging. More rain washes more pesticide residue into watersheds, and kills more wetland-dwelling insects, which reduces the numbers of birds.

We need to make our yards oases. My feeding station above is the most popular, though I have others. I give suet, a substitute source for insect fat, and a nut and fruit blend. Birds like shelter close by; they prefer that sense of safety. If you have an evergreen, like my rhododendron, set up a feeding station almost among the leaves, and the birds will be grateful. And do, unless you know for a certainty there’s plenty of food out there, feed them year-round.

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