January 8, 2011

Backyard Bird Feeders: Feast or Famine or Plague

I was left a message the other day from one of my patients asking me a question not about dentistry, but about birds.  Our office has a large 150 foot long bird aviary that covers 9 out of the 12 operatory windows at our office.  It hold about 300-400 finches at any one time.  So it would seem natural for one of my patients to call me about the local birds in his backyard.

The question was, to paraphrase: I bought a bird feeder for all of the little “finches” flying around in my backyard, but they don’t seem to like the food that I am providing, what is wrong?

Human beings are a curious bunch, they want to support everything around them that they can.  Bird feeders are a hot ticket idem for sale in the big home improvement stores especially around Christmas.  They even sell 25 pound bags of wild bird feed to supply all of the feeders they peddle.  Here in SW Florida, winter time we can see a great variety of little “finch” type birds traveling through our backyards that are really warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and chats.  The little beautifully colorful birds dodge from tree to bush and can leave you wanting more.  So what better way to attract more birds to your backyard than the good old fashion bird feeder.

Only one problem, these birds in question will not come to the feeder.  So I asked him if he had identified the birds in his backyard, and he had not.  I asked what were the birds doing in his backyard, and he answered, just flying back and forth.


Can you figure out the answer yet?  The birds are… insectivores.

Placing a bird feeder in your yard in SW Florida does one of 2 different things:  It feeds the year round seed eaters like the crows, grackles, doves, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals and squirrels during the day; and the rats, raccoons, opossums, deer and bears at night.   It will not attract those full time and part time resident birds who eat bugs for a living which are most of those colorful ones visiting our backyards during the winter time.

One other note about bird feeders you need to know if you are wanting to place one in your backyard: You have to keep your seed constant (or the birds will not have a food source when they become dependent upon your feeder), and you must clean it up daily. Most bird feeders are constructed poorly.  They hold plenty of seed, but may get wet when it rains thus ruining the seed. Those seeds that fall to the ground can be very tasty for marauding mammals.  While everyone will not have bears in their backyard, they will have raccoons, opossums and most definitely rats.  So consider this before you decide to care for the wild creatures living in and around your backyard.