Different homeowners associations (HOAs) enforce a variety of rules to keep a neighborhood safe, clean, and up to established standards, but what's a birder to do when those rules prohibit bird feeders? There are still plenty of ways to enjoy backyard birds without risking fines or other sanctions from an HOA.
Why HOAs Might Restrict Bird Feeders
Homeowners associations do not have a personal vendetta against birds or backyard birding. There are many legitimate reasons why an association may have limits, restrictions, or bans on feeding birds, such as:
- Mess: If the community includes condominiums, apartments, or townhouses in close proximity to one another, spilled seed, feces, or other debris from one person's bird feeder may easily cross over to their neighbors' property. Odors or damaged, dirty feeders can also be a concern if the community has strict appearance guidelines covering garden fixtures or yard decorations.
- Pests: Bird feeders rarely feed just birds, and an HOA may restrict bird feeders in an attempt to discourage less welcome wildlife such as squirrels, mice, rats, raccoons, deer, or even bears that may also visit feeders. This type of regulation can also cover any outdoor food sources, such as pet bowls.
- Unwelcome Flocks: Some urban birds are highly gregarious, such as European starlings, rock pigeons, and Canada geese. When a flock of these birds moves into a neighborhood with readily available food sources, the sheer number of birds can quickly become overwhelming, leading to restrictions to keep these bully birds, and the mess and noise that accompanies them, out of the neighborhood.
- Misinformation: An HOA may have the community's best interest in mind but bans bird feeders through misinformation. This could be a claim that feeders spread disease to humans (they don't) or that feeding birds nuts may trigger nut allergies in neighbors (extraordinarily unlikely), or even that wild birds fall under a broader umbrella of pets that should not be fed outdoors (wild birds aren't pets).
The exact restrictions on bird feeders can vary for each community. Some HOAs ban all bird feeders, while others may only restrict seed feeders while permitting nectar feeders for hummingbirds or orioles. Restrictions may only be in place at certain times of year, such as allowing feeding in the winter but not in the summer when pests are more rampant, or the number of feeders for each property may be controlled. Homeowners should carefully read all the guidelines regarding bird feeders for their HOA to fully understand any restrictions.
Talking to the HOA
Speaking to the HOA could help relax restrictions on bird feeders. This is particularly true when the restrictions may be misguided or based on false assumptions, such as believing that feeding songbirds may help spread bird flu (passerines do not carry avian influenza). Backyard birders could present a polite, logical case to the community's governing board and ask that the restrictions be eased or dropped entirely. Presenting updated facts from local birding organizations or wildlife officials will help support the proposition, and arguments should always be made respectfully and following the appropriate community procedures. Birders living in communities with HOA restrictions should also be willing to compromise: If no feeders are permitted, for example, it might be best to ask that only nectar feeders be allowed, or that each property only be allowed to erect one feeder initially, until the change becomes accepted and no adverse affects are noted.
Enjoying Backyard Birds Even If Feeders Are Forbidden
Even if an HOA completely outlaws bird feeders, there are still options available for backyard birding. To offer nutritious foods to birds without violating a "no feeders" restriction:
- Plant natural foods for birds, such as berries, seed-bearing flowers, or fruit trees as part of general landscaping. Be sure all plants comply with HOA guidelines and keep the yard neat and well-groomed to avoid complaints or sanctions.
- Design a hummingbird garden that includes a variety of nectar-producing blooms, choosing flowers that bloom at different times to provide a constant food source for hummingbirds.
- Grow sunflowers in a garden box, outdoor container, or garden plot, leaving the seed heads intact to mature and dry on the plants so birds will find them.
- Minimize pesticide use to maximize food available for insectivorous bird species, including leaving spider webs intact and allowing birds to provide garden pest control.
In addition to feeding the birds, there are other ways to attract birds without any food, and without violating an HOAs restrictions on offering food to birds.
- Attract birds with water by including bird baths in the yard, or if they are restricted as well, try a decorative fountain with splashing noises that will attract birds.
- Keep landscaping dense and layered to provide good shelter for birds, particularly during the nesting season or in cold, stormy weather when birds may seek out cozy niches.
- Provide secure nesting sites with a birdhouse or simply by ensuring birds have good trees and shrubs for nesting. Offer nesting material in the yard to entice birds to build their homes nearby.
Even when an HOA forbids bird feeders, backyard birders can feel right at home in their community and keep their yard bird-friendly without being out of compliance with neighborhood guidelines.