Is it cheating to claim life birds at a feeder? Most birders would say not. Many of my own life birds, especially those found in the winter, come from feeders. Just last winter I saw all three rosy-finches for the first time, gathered in a large flock on a platform feeder—Brown-capped, Gray-crowned, and a single soot-colored Black Rosy-finch. In fact, the summer before the rosy-finches I saw my first Band-tailed Pigeons at the same feeders, gathered in a large flock, the telephone wire upon which they sat sinking as more birds flew in. Although feeder birds are still “wild”, have they been tainted by the human touch? In a Pennsylvania-based study of wintering Black-capped Chickadees, researchers found that feeders may impact the migration and survival rates of chickadees. They claim “supplemental feeding may have caused chickadees to settle earlier in the fall and move out later in the spring (Egan and Brittingham ).” They attribute the “positive effect of suburbanization on survival rates to the numerous bird feeders present in the suburban habitat (Egan and Brittingham)*.” We have become so concerned about our backyard birds, that bird feeding stores offer heated bird baths for the winter and squirrel bafflers to discourage competition. Naturally, all these aspects make a typically migratory bird reconsider his wintering grounds.
Photo courtesy of Evan Barrientos
Or perhaps human interference isn’t “unnatural” at all. Perhaps we are a part of “nature”. If a beaver builds a dam, we say it is natural. But if humans begin construction of a house, we say this is unnatural, a destruction to the environment. What do you think? Is it ok to host a meal for our backyard friends or is this unnatural interference?
* Egan, Erica and Margaret Brittingham. "Winter Survival Rates of a Southern Population of Black-capped Chickadees." The Wilson Bulletin 1994 514-521. 02/11/2009 .