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The Top 10 Bird Feeding Myths

The Top 10 Bird Feeding Myths

The Top 10 Bird Feeding Myths

Ever hear something about feeding bird and wonder if it is true? Well, here is my roundup of the Top 10 bird feeding myths.

Myth 1: If you feed the birds they won’t fly south.

Scientists don’t know everything that triggers birds to migrate, but they have found that your feeders don’t hinder it. Migration in birds is thought to begin with daylight changes, temperature fluctuations and bird genetics.

Feeding birds can actually help them fly south. Birds can fly amazing distances during migration. The Swainson’s thrush is one such bird. They fly from Manitoba Canada all the way to Brazil! Another bird, the Red Knot flies 18,000 miles during their migration. Because these flights are so long and take the birds through many different areas, not all survive.

But birds don’t fly south all at once. They take breaks. Birds not resting during migration would be like driving non-stop across country – you have to swing by a fast food restaurant at some point. Birds do the same. So during migration birds will stop and rest.

When these birds are resting they are hungry. Your bird feeder may be just what they need to help them along their way. The best way to help them during these times put out foods high in fat, such as suet or black oil sunflower seeds.

Don’t forget the birds in spring as they return home. Recent studies have found that the northerly migration in the spring is more varied than in the autumn. In the spring smaller birds may change their routes north if they find food sources or favorable weather. Your feeder could be a great help along the way.

Myth 2: Rice makes birds explode.

Everyone knows not to throw rice at a wedding, because any bird that eats the leftovers will not survive. This idea is so prevalent that in 1985 Connecticut tried to pass a bill that would impose a $50 fine for wedding rice throwing.

While it’s nice that Connecticut wanted to help the birds, the bill is unnecessary. For rice to expand, it must be first boiled or soaked. Also, when a bird eats grains, these particles are ground up in their gizzard (a muscular organism that helps them digest food). Finally, rice is a natural food for many species of birds.

If you still need more proof, a professor at the University of Kentucky decided to put the matter to rest in 2002. With the help of his students, he conducted a series of experiments determining how much soaked rice expands. The experiment found that soaked bird seed actually gets larger than rice. Once they were certain that the rice was safe, they completed the experiments by feeding 60 captive pigeons and doves a diet of only instant rice and water for a day. No birds showed any problems.

So throw bird seed if you want, but don’t be afraid to throw rice.

Myth 3: If you feed birds, they won’t get their own food.

The reality is birds like variety. Food from bird feeders only accounts for 10% of a bird’s daily intake. Even in winter, birds do not rely on your feeder. There is a bounty of food around your house in the form of nuts, seeds, plants and insects even in the winter.

Even though birds do not need feeders, they do help. One study found that chickadees that had access to feeders had an improved survival rate during the winter over birds that did not. They also endured winter in better physical condition. This resulted in earlier egg laying, larger chicks and more success during the nesting season.

Birds also are used to their food disappearing. Natural food sources do not last forever and birds quickly adapt to the loss of a food source. They just move onto the next one.

Think of bird feeders as a quick snack for a bird, something to tide them over or help them along. It is more important when the winter is harsh, the birds are young or if the habitat is degraded.

Myth 4: Bread is a great bird food.

Waterbirds don't need bread.

Waterbirds don’t need bread.

Remember as a child visiting a pond and feeding the wild ducks bread? The pond ducks and geese would waddle over and take these morsels from your hand and gobble them down, squabbling over who gets the next bite.

Unfortunately this practice needs to end as bread is bad for birds.

Bread is the junk food of the bird world. It has almost no nutritional value for a bird except an excess of calories.

Bread can be especially harmful to waterfowl. The combination of the extra calories and lack of other nutrients (particularly vitamin D, E and manganese) can cause a condition called ‘angel wing’ in young birds. This condition is well known by anyone who has pet ducks, but wild birds are just as likely to develop it.

Angel wing develops when the wing grows too quickly. The wing grows at the wrong angle. It sticks out from the bird instead of resting against the body. In domestic waterfowl this is a cosmetic issue, although sometimes the malformed wing is damaged on items in the pen. In wild waterfowl this is deadly as the bird will not be able to fly.

Instead of tossing bread to waterfowl, try feeding ducks greens. If you want your child to feed the ducks, consider picking up a bag of washed baby lettuces or dandelion greens and offering those to the birds. These greens are closer to their natural diet and are packed with vitamins and minerals. Or even better, let the wild birds stay wild and enjoy them by watching them swim.

Instead of tossing bread to waterfowl, try feeding ducks greens. Instead of tossing bread to waterfowl, try feeding ducks greens. Click To Tweet

Myth 5: Hummingbird nectar must be red.

This is not a debate over whether red dye is dangerous – I’ll leave that for another day.

But the fact is that you don’t have to worry about red dye, it’s just not needed.

It is true that hummingbirds are attracted to specific colors. Naturally they are drawn to red, pink and yellow flowers. While the flowers are colorful, nectar is not. Nectar is naturally clear.

Since hummingbirds already eat a clear liquid, why complicate things and add any color? The color of the hummingbird feeder needs to be red or yellow (if you have trouble with wasps, use the red feeders). This mimics the color of a flower and the bird knows where dinner is!

To make your own nectar mix ¼ cup of sugar (NOT honey) into a cup of water and stir. Only make enough for one or two days so that it is fresh and safe for the birds.

Myth 6: Birds feet will freeze onto metal bird feeders in the winter.

Did you know that a sparrow’s normal body temperature is 105.8F? That is about eight degrees warmer than a human. With a body that warm you would think they would have trouble in the winter. But they don’t.

You see, birds have cold feet.

In the winter birds keep their feet just above freezing. They do this with a special circulatory system adaptation called a double shunt. The blood vessels for the legs are very close together. This allows the incoming blood to be warmed by the outgoing blood. As a result, the outgoing blood has its heat removed resulting in cold feet that don’t get stuck to metal.

Birds can still freeze to items during freezing rain events, but your metal bird pole is no more dangerous than a tree branch.

Myth 7: Starlings cannot feed from upside down suet feeders.

This woodpecker isn't sharing his upside down suet feeder.

This woodpecker isn’t sharing his upside down suet feeder.

YES they can.

That may have come out sounding a bit frustrated, because I am.

Starlings cannot cling to the upside down feeders like other birds (woodpeckers and chickadees), but they can hover upside down. They are like miniature spaceships.

The good news is they can only hover for a few seconds. It’s enough to get a beak-full of your suet, but they can’t gorge. Upside down feeders do save you money, but they don’t keep starlings away completely.

Myth 8: Store bought bird seed is the only thing you should feed birds.

While some store bought foods are pure seed without additives and healthy, some may not be. Suet commonly has these additions. Many store bought foods have added flavors or dyes to make it appealing to humans, but the birds just want natural foods. Read your labels and avoid foods with these additives.

Store bought ‘human food’ can be even better. Orioles love orange slices or hanging a bunch of grapes near your feeders is always welcome.

You can also try growing insects, like mealworms. They are easy to raise at home. Bluebirds love mealworm larva.

If you want to go the next step and feed the best non store food, plant shrubs, trees and perennials that feed the birds. Try growing your own sunflowers (don’t buy the pollen-less kind) and leave the seed heads for the birds. Grow an oak tree for the Blue Jays or a Viburnum for the robins. Goldfinch love the seed heads of Black-eye Susan and coneflower. There are so many bird feeding plants, give some a try!

Myth 9: You should stop feeding birds in the spring.

While winter is an important time to feed the birds, spring and summer is also prime feeding time. During the warmer months, there is more natural food available, but birds are busy raising young. These babies are hungry all the time and your feeders could be just the boost the parent’s need to get them through the season.

Once the babies fledge, parents will often bring them to a feeder or a bird bath. This is a great opportunity for you to see young birds up close.

On that note it’s important to remember the importance of natural foods too, as stated above and by naturalist David Mizejewski. “Feeders should be viewed only as supplements to the natural foods a person provides for wildlife by cultivating native plants.”

Feeders should be viewed only as supplements to the natural foods a person provides for wildlife by cultivating native plants.

Myth 10: Squirrels cannot eat from this feeder.

Finally the biggest myth of all. Many feeder companies claim that their products are squirrel proof, and many Amazon reviews prove this otherwise. In my experience, feeders are squirrel proof until a smarter squirrel comes along one day and cleans you out!

Hope you enjoyed these bird feeder myths. Are there any I missed? Tell me in the comments.

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