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crow bird feeder

Q and A: My neighbors have bird feeders that attract crows, blackbirds, and starlings. These birds are loud and messy and I was wondering if someone would tell these folks that they are creating a nuisance. Why buy feed for these garbage eaters?

from J.P., Fort Myers

There is a delicate balance between nature and development, just as there is a delicate balance that must be reached between neighbors. I am not the person to tell a homeowner what to do or not to do on their property. What I can offer is more about the science of nature and the facts about wildlife behaviors. If someone wants to attract wildlife to their yard, there are several ways to go about it. Keep in mind though, once you create the environment, you will have to live with the wildlife that you attract.

Bird feeders are probably the first thing that comes to mind when people start thinking about attracting wildlife. Estimates show that over a third of
the families in the United States use an average of 60 pounds of birdseed each year. The industry has grown to over $500 million. In the last twenty years science and research has provided evidence that providing feed is not always beneficial. Before this evidence, bird feeding was considered a hobby that had little impact on bird populations. Local populations may have been enhanced, but that was as far as the research had gone. Today we know that some species have expanded their range due to increased feeding efforts. By breaking the natural boundaries, these bird species have had negative effects on traditionally native bird species. Always keep this in mind when feeding.

Most people feed birds in the winter because they feel birds can find plenty of food during the other seasons. This is true, but year-round feeding will bring a greater variety of birds at times when they are courting, mating, or caring for offspring. In addition, many birds search for winter homes during the fall by scouting for abundant food supplies. Offering seed consistently throughout the year will attract a much greater bird population in the winter. On the other hand, there are arguments that suggest that feeding wildlife (of any sort) will decrease their natural instinct to find food on their own. By providing feed in your yard, some feel that the birds will suffer once the food source is discontinued or unavailable for some time. If this is a concern, planting a backyard filled with varieties of plants (or even creating a bird plot of wildflowers) will often attract a more diverse wildlife mix, while also allowing the creatures to find food on their own in a more natural setting.

The next critical issue is choosing the right type of feeder and seed, or the right type of plants to attract certain birds/wildlife. Many commercial feeds available at groceries or department stores are filled with seeds not preferred by backyard bird species. A mix heavy in black striped sunflower seed, oil-type sunflower seed, sunflower kernels, red and white proso millet, and peanut kernels is much more attractive and useful to birds. Adding cracked corn will aid in attracting bird variety. In addition, the type of feeder is important. Different birds feed from different locations. For example, the morning dove is a ground feeder while the American goldfinch prefers hanging feeders. Feeders come in a wide array of sizes and designs, but usually the types that are easy to fill and clean are the best.

It is difficult to satisfy everyone, but it is important to try to get along and compromise. My suggestion is to talk with your neighbors to see if they could provide seed or feeders that are more conducive to less disturbing birds. Or, if you don’t feel you can talk with them, offer a bag of special feed as a gift. I have plenty of information to assist you in attracting certain bird types. Discouraging feeding altogether may create a battle between you and your neighbor. After all, one man’s garbage feeder is another man’s treasure.

Click the image below for more information on gardening for birds

Top photo by ZoomTravels/Getty Images