“Considering that birds provide more than US $1 billion worth of pest control and pollination services annually to US farmers alone, healthy agricultural schemes that promote healthy farmland birds will be essential for securing “wins” for both people and nature.”
~ Christopher E. Latimer and Christina Kennedy
Our bird feeder is a joy to watch. At almost any time of the day we can see an assortment of birds from basic house finches, chickadees, juncos, sparrows, and Eurasian collared doves, to the more elusive flickers, nuthatches, grackles, ravens, and various small woodpeckers. Wrens and warblers are occasional drop-ins, staying mostly in the shrubs that border the yard.
Even our dog has become a bird watcher though she’s not a birddog. She has always enjoyed storming the bird feeder to scare away any birds or squirrels feeding on the spilled seed. Apparently, she has also taken umbrage to the flickers, doves and ravens that occasionally stalk the lawn. The ravens have begun to station themselves in the tall trees surrounding the yard and ‘chrr’ down at the dog, causing her to watch them warily and bark when they fly.
Humans are pretty tough on nature, particularly birds. We destroy their habitat, interrupt their migratory pathways, and poison the food sources – plants and insects. But humans aren’t all bad; we’ve created new habitat and food sources. Some birds prefer urban and suburban areas to forests and grasslands because of their diversity. Of course, cats are a major cause of bird deaths that seems to be offset by the plethora of bird food we provide.
Bird feeders also offer a literal buffet to predatory birds. With our feeders, we concentrate the prey species into small, distracted clusters easy for them to access. And unlike natural food sources, the feeders are there every day all year long. It’s kind of like your favorite Chinese restaurant — there’s plenty of selection and it’s fast and affordable. Asked why he robbed banks, Clyde Barrow replied, “That’s where the money is.” Well, bird feeders are where the prey birds are, so the hawks follow.
We see hawks patrol the yard and swoop down on the feeder. A few summers ago, while sitting at the breakfast table with the French door open, a blur of brown and gray zoomed across the table between my wife and I and caught on the inside of the screened, open window a foot or so from us. A sharp-shinned hawk had mistaken the open door and screened window for a path to the feeder just outside. I used a towel to wrestle the hawk off the screen and out the French door.
Researchers Christopher E. Latimer and Christina Kennedy note, “Because environmental changes affect organisms at multiple levels, and species often exhibit markedly different vulnerabilities to these changes, scientists are increasingly turning to animal physiology for insights into how species might respond to ecological uncertainty.” And climate change isn’t the only stressor. “However, practices, including increasing crop diversity, limiting field sizes, integrating (semi)natural habitats into fields, along with preserving natural habitats around farms appear to provide some benefits for wildlife, particularly in industrialized agricultural landscapes.”
Kelsey Vlamis reported on a recent study where author Brian Weeks said “We found almost all of the (bird) species were getting smaller,” he noted. “In 2014, researchers found that alpine goats appeared to be shrinking due to warming temperatures. The same year, another study found salamanders had shrunk rapidly in response to climate change.”
We may be able to offset some of these stresses, even in our own yards. Becca Rodomsky-Bish and Robyn Bailey suggest that we consider making our yards into bird sanctuaries. “By designing your property to help provide birds’ basic needs, you can enjoy more birds without leaving your home.”
They note that the key elements include:
Food. “Birds eat a lot. Their lightweight yet powerful bodies require immense amounts of calories to fly, forage, feed offspring, and keep themselves out of harm’s way.”
Bird seed isn’t enough. “Feeders need to be supplemented by insects, particularly native plants that host egg laying and the production of larvae. ‘Because of this relationship between birds, native plants, and insects, adding a native plant garden to your property will do a lot for all birds that decide to visit your home … In addition to insect meals during nesting season, native plants often provide vital berries, nuts, and seeds that birds will utilize during migration and throughout the winter.”
Water. “Water will attract many species of birds for drinking and bathing that wouldn’t otherwise visit a bird feeding area.”
Shelter. “There are three layers of multilevel habitat that birds use for shelter: lower layers (e.g., flowers or low-growing grasses); middle layers (e.g., shrubbery); and upper layer elements (e.g., trees, tall cacti).”
Safety. Windows and chemicals are common dangers for birds. Use chemicals sparingly and correctly, and place or mark windows so birds can avoid them.
Life can be tough if you’re a bird. We can do a lot to help them out. Just watch out for the hawks.
Becca Rodomsky-Bish and Robyn Bailey, How to Make Your Property a Bird Sanctuary, September/October 2019, Grit
Christopher E. Latimer, Christina Kennedy, New Research Shows Healthy Agriculture Means Healthier Birds, March 2, 2020, Cool Green Science
Matthew L. Miller, Why You’re Seeing More Hawks at Your Birdfeeder, December 31, 2018, Cool Green Science, The Nature Conservancy
Kelsey Vlamis, Climate Change Is Causing Birds To Shrink, Study Suggests, December 4, 2019, BBC News