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We feed our birds right

By Keri Schlecht

For as long as I can remember, my parents have been feeding the birds in their backyard. Nectar for the hummingbirds. Seeds for the finches. Oranges for the orioles. My father was the ringleader of the operation, but none were exempt from participation. Even my mother got into it with her well-intentioned if not misguided offerings of day-old bread.

It was from my father that I would later learn you shouldn’t feed stale bread to wild birds – and not just because of the freshness factor. One shouldn’t feed “people food” to birds at all. This means saving the leftovers for yourself, and definitely not using them to lure our feathered friends into your open hands.

My father taught me that when feeding wild birds, selecting the right food is best left to the experts. When it comes to these animals, an “any food is better than no food” approach is not the objective. Just as we adhere to a healthy diet (free from table scraps) for our canine and feline friends, wild birds thrive best when the nutritional content of feed mimics that of their natural diet. Bird feed is specially formulated to deliver the extra energy birds need to survive in winter. “We feed our birds right,” dad said, “or not at all.” And the latter wasn’t really an option.

So every year when the leaves began to turn and the air began to cool, the four of us would pile in the front of my dad’s pickup and head to the pet store. He’d stock up on bags of feed and oddly shaped seed balls on strings and we’d head home to deck the yard in tasty treats for the neighborhood flock.

Then, we’d watch. All winter – and all year for that matter – birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors would dart in and out of our yard. Grey and shine, rain and snow, they’d feast and then drop their seedy remains under the tree as if to say, “more please.”

At this critical point in the season, many of the resources wild birds depend on for survival are approaching dangerously low levels. In many parts of the country, fresh water is frozen and in short supply, putting birds at risk for dehydration. Primary food supplies such as seeds, berries, and nuts are becoming scarce. Our feathered friends need us now more than ever to keep the feeder full and fresh.

Even if you don’t have fond memories of feeding the birds growing up, it’s never too late to try it out. There are many reasons to begin a bird feeding routine, among them an easy way to connect to the natural world around you. What’s more, with urbanization comes the loss of natural habitat. Replacing natural food sources that are eliminated when new communities are developed is not just responsible, it’s good for the neighborhood. Birds who seek out backyard feeders in colder months may return come spring and summer to feast on snails, spiders, and other garden-gobbling insects.

Starting a feed project requires very little investment – mostly just your time! Even more importantly, it’s easy and fun. To get started, visit our website for information, tips, and our full variety of Audubon Park bird feed.