Groff's Plant Farm Images

Birds Will Be OK

Published: Mon Feb 17th 2014

Is this the winter of discontent for our feathered friends? Will lots of birds die if we don't feed them? There may be a few murmuring in disagreement but the overwhelming evidence is no to both questions.

My evidence follows. Birds have successfully populated the earth for many centuries before we decided to help them.

I feed suet, black sunflower seed, thistle seed and an economical seed mixture. My regular patrons include cardinals, blue jays, doves, chickadees, titmice, wrens, nuthatches, two different finches, three different blackbirds, four different woodpeckers and five different sparrows.

Eliminating the mixed seed would discourage most of the sparrows and blackbirds. My count is 21 different species that visit regularly. So far this year I have seen a good, but not ambitious, total of 74 different birds in Lancaster County.What are the other 53 eating?

At the height of the biggest February snowstorm a bluebird made an appearance. Did he eat? No, he just stopped for a drink from the heated birdbath. Robins and mockingbirds do the same. Another yard regular is the tiny brown creeper weighing in at about ¼ ounce. Does he help himself to the feeders? No, he searches the furrows in the tree bark for insect material.

After the big storm my wife escaped the house for a road walk and found a brown creeper on a telephone pole. We're not sure whether he was sending an SOS to the weatherman or just probing for insects.We planned a January escape south and I fretted about my birds. We left shortly after my wife turned the house thermostat down to 50 degrees. The immediate days before were some of the mildest of the year, so I decided to let the birds fend for themselves. What followed was some of the coldest temperatures in years.

Immediately on our return I fed the birds and she reset the thermostat.The birds were starting to come back by the time the house temperature reached 65 degrees. In fact, as the snow deepens, I have seen growing concentrations of birds at the feeder. They did not seem to mind that I had abandoned them for two weeks.

One of the first things a birdwatcher learns is that different birds hang out together. Often in the woods you can go for a long while bird-less and then stumble upon a significant mixed flock. Some of it is the protection of many eyes, but it is also significant that generally they don't compete for food. Each has its own diet and feeding method.

My offerings vary but I feed the birds almost year round because I enjoy seeing them. The birds honor me with their presence, not because they need me, but because it's tough to pass up a free lunch.

Sure, bird mortality may be a bit higher this winter because of the weather.However, feeder birds also are challenged by cats, window strikes and Cooper hawks who appreciate our efforts to concentrate bird populations giving them an easy meal.