Should you feed wild birds?

It’s not a question of Shakespearean proportions, but it’s still a dilemma for wild bird enthusiasts: To feed or not to feed?

Feeding wild birds

Wild birds don’t need the feed we leave them. So, it’s really for our own satisfaction that we feed wild birds. And the benefits that people receive from viewing birds from the comfort of their homes may not be worth the costs exacted in the production of bird feed – in the amount of bird habitat destroyed by the plow and the number of birds killed by pesticides.

How to attract birds to your yard

Providing bird feed isn’t the only way to encourage birds to frequent your yard. "To attract birds, improve the habitat in your yard and plant more trees, bushes and native grasses," says Carmen Smith, Best Friends’ wildlife rehabilitator. "That way, you can still view birds at home."

No doubt, the relationships we develop with birds and the knowledge we can gather about them by watching them are healthy – for mind and spirit. For some people, then, the benefits of bird feeders outweigh the costs. And one may well argue that relative to other pastimes that negatively impact the environment, bird feed production is minimal in the toll it takes.

If you do ultimately decide to feed birds, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Make sure you buy good quality feed

Most of the feed available in stores is a mix of various seeds, nuts and cracked corn. Carmen recommends food with the least amount of cracked corn, which, she says, is just filler and less nutritious than the other ingredients. A number of species will gorge on the cracked corn if given the chance, and could very well wind up with liver problems as a result.

Of course, make sure that the kind of feed you use to fill your feeders can sift out of it – that is, make sure the feed you choose is the appropriate size for the feeder.

Clean your feeders regularly

Dirty feeders can develop fungi and bacteria that become a source of disease and even death for the birds who visit. Carmen urges cleaning the feeders at least once a week, using a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. She doesn’t recommend spreading seed on the ground when the ground is wet, since the food could very likely turn moldy.

Choose the locations for your feeders wisely

If you’d like to have one by your window, make sure it’s close to the glass – within three feet. That way, if birds are frightened away from a feeder and fly into the window, they won’t be able to reach speeds that would result in injury. Otherwise, place feeders well away from windows, at least 30 feet if possible. If you or your neighbors have cats, keep feeders away from doors and well above ground.

There’s one type of bird we can feed (or at least help fuel) and not feel ambivalent about it – hummingbirds. All they need is some water and pure cane sugar, which keeps them energized for catching bugs. And that’s exactly what you should give to hummingbirds, in a proportion of one part sugar to four parts water. (Measure the water first, boil it and then dissolve the sugar in it.) Avoid the red-colored nectar for sale in stores. It doesn’t help lure hummingbirds, and it includes dyes that may cause tumors in the birds.

Again, clean the feeders regularly, flushing them with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. And make sure you do it at least every other day when the temperatures are mild, and every day when it’s hot, or else mold could grow within the feeders and severely harm the creatures you’re looking out for.

Find out what to do if you find a wounded wild bird