Adding a bird feeder to the yard is often the first step in backyard birding, but there are many valid, logical reasons to not have bird feeders at all. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't feed the birds! Understanding why bird feeders aren't always desirable can help birders better plan to opt for natural food sources that will entice even more birds than a simple feeding station.
10 Reasons Why You Might Not Want Bird Feeders
There are many reasons why bird feeders may not be right for every yard, no matter how welcome the birds might be.
- Feeders can be messy. Birds don't have good table manners, and a feeding station can be a mess of spilled seed, discarded hulls, shed feathers, feces, and more. Some seeds may grow into unwanted weeds, and an accumulated mess could ruin turf and have an unpleasant smell.
- Feeders can be noisy. When a flock of birds descends on a feeding station, there is no doubt it is mealtime. Squawks and squabbles can be loud and intrusive, particularly if feeders are positioned near a window and if birds are feeding early in the morning before birders decide to rise.
- Feeders and seed can be expensive. Not only do feeders cost money, but so do poles or hooks to hang them, baffles to protect them from predators, cleaning brushes to maintain them, and of course, seed to fill them. For birders on a tight budget or fixed income, the cost of feeding birds can be prohibitive.
- Feeders require ongoing maintenance. Part of responsible bird feeding is making sure feeders are clean and in good repair so they do not present a hazard to visiting birds. In busy areas, this may require several fillings and cleanings per week, and birders with full schedules may not be able to adequately care for busy feeders.
- Feeders feed the wrong birds. Not all birds come to bird feeders, and birders who most want to attract warblers, phoebes, flycatchers, waxwings, owls, or other species that don't typically come to feeders have no need to add feeders to their yard.
- Unwanted wildlife visits feeders. Birds aren't the only creatures to get a free meal from a feeder. Mice, squirrels, rats, raccoons, deer, and even bats and bears may snack from bird feeders, and if birders don't want to feed extra wildlife or don't want food usurped by non-feathered guests, they may prefer not to have feeders at all.
- Predators hunt at bird feeders. Cunning predators will quickly learn that a backyard feeding station can be a smorgasbord of prey, and hawks, cats, and other predators may stake out a bird feeder in search of their next meal. Some birders prefer not to provide that unwary bait.
- Bully birds may take over feeders. Some of the least-wanted backyard birds are the first to visit new bird feeders. If birders prefer not to feed flocks of grackles, starlings, pigeons, and sparrows, they may prefer to avoid adding feeders to the yard.
- Backyard aesthetics may not welcome feeders. Backyard birders who enjoy gardening and have cultivated their ideal plant paradise may not want to interrupt the look of their backyard with a feeder or feeding station, and some yards may have no way of including feeders without unsightly poles or other gear.
- Bird feeders could be against the law. Bird feeders aren't often illegal, but they can be if the local city or community ordinances, homeowners' associations, or neighborhood bylaws restrict feeding wildlife. Bird feeders are actually often involved in bear incidents and are involved in 80 percent of bear problems around homes in New York State, for example. Violations could lead to substantial fines and other unpleasant penalties.
You Can Still Feed the Birds
Just because a birder chooses not to have dedicated bird feeders, that doesn't mean it's impossible to feed the birds. Natural food sources are more easily recognized by local birds and may appeal to many more bird species, particularly if one yard provides a wide variety of natural foods for birds. As landscaping is being planned with the birds in mind, there are many types of plants that can be added to create a natural, growing, self-renewing smorgasbord for hungry birds, including:
- Fruit or nut trees and shrubs
- Seed-bearing flowers
- Seed-bearing ornamental grasses
- Berry bushes
- Nectar flowers
Minimizing pesticide use can help provide insects for hungry birds, and leaving leaf litter intact is another great way to give foraging birds a healthy, natural food source. Even without feeders, any birder's yard can be a nutritious buffet that will attract a wide range of birds.
Bears and Bird Feeders. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation