For the birds

When the snow gets this high, it’s hard to maintain the 4-foot rule.

Many people I know find all kinds of reasons not to feed birds in winter. The most common are:

  • The food attracts rats. Indeed, when I was shopping for feeders recently, a garden center employee told me that it was illegal to feed birds in Buffalo. So many weird things about that statement—but, first of all, why is this store selling illegal feeders? As I discovered, there is a bylaw concerning bird feeders: they must be four feet off the ground. But they are legal. And there are other ways to make feeders impossible for rats to get at. I have never seen the creatures in our yard (I know that doesn’t mean anything, but it’s good enough for me).
  • The squirrels eat it all. This is kind of like the rat argument and has some of the same answers. I have found that squirrel-proof feeders work and the suet feeders in round enclosures that keep out all but small birds are good for this as well. I don’t leave out unprotected bird seed or suet.
  • It makes a mess. I suppose, but it’s winter and I really don’t care. You can buy mess-free seed, and, at its worst, bird seed mess is easy to sweep up. I’d rather have birds and mess than no birds (within reason).
  • Birds get too dependent. There is at least one study (done in Wisconsin) that shows the presence of feeders does not affect survival rates, at least with chickadees. Regardless, I figure our year-round urban birds need all the help they can get in frigid winters.

The birds around our feeders provide a great source of entertainment on cold winter days. It’s also fun to watch them using the snow as a bird bath and for protection. They’re great reminders that, as we go to great lengths to insulate ourselves from weather, other creatures have to make the best of it. With a little help.

And the sight of them doing so can even inspire the humans inside to get outside and brave a little nature themselves.

For the birds originally appeared on GardenRant on February 5, 2019.