The weather is warming up nicely here in the northern hemisphere, and chances are that most of us are spending as much time outdoors as possible. You’ve probably noticed a lot more bird activity recently: the warmer months are critical for birds, as they need to raise their young and eat as much as they can in order to migrate safely back home, but are your own actions helping or hindering their wellbeing? Songbird numbers have decreased dramatically in recent years because of pesticides and air/water contamination (not to mention domestic and feral cats, wind turbines, window glass, and habitat loss), so the more we can do to help the little winged ones, the better. Read on to find out how you can help them.
1. Don’t Attempt to “Rescue” Baby Birds
In order for baby birds to learn how to fly, they need to be encouraged out of the nest. If you find a baby bird on the ground, don’t pick it up and take it inside: it’s more than likely that the parents are nearby, and are teaching the little one how to fend for itself. The exception to this rule is if you find an obviously injured bird that seems to be in distress—if that’s the case, you can place it in a towel-lined box and take it to a local wildlife rehabilitation or rescue center for care.
2. Provide Fresh Food and Water
Although birds can find a lot of food out in the wild during the summer, they do appreciate fresh seed scattered around, and a source of fresh water is super-important too. If you have a birdbath or water feature, please make sure to clean it regularly, and keep it filled with fresh water. If you have hummingbird feeders around your home, make sure that they’re cleaned often and that the sugar water within them is replaced before it starts to ferment (estimate 3-5 days depending on sun/heat exposure).
3. Keep Cats and Dogs Away from Birds
Yes, your pet cat undoubtedly likes to wander around outside, but free-roaming cats are responsible for the deaths of billions of birds each year, and the ones most vulnerable to their attacks are fledglings, as they spend a lot of time on the ground and aren’t strong enough (or fast enough) to fly away at the first sign of danger. Keep cats indoors, and your dogs on leashes. If you have to let your cat out, then put a bell on its collar so birds get a warning before getting pounced upon.
4. Let Your Land Go a Little Wild
Native plants can provide great sources of food and shelter for birds throughout the summer and autumn, so feel free to neglect part of your property in support of bird welfare. (It’s also a great excuse to avoid mowing the entire lawn…) Seed-bearing indigenous plants in particular are of great benefit, as are those that attract the pollinating insects that many birds feast on. Try not to trim your trees until fall so you don’t disturb nesting birds, and avoid mowing large fields or roadsides until mid August: ground-nesting birds as well as rabbits will be vulnerable all through July, so please let them grow up safely.
5. Be Kind to Your Neighbors
Homeowners (and even tenants) often get frustrated when nests appear in eaves, porch lights, and garages, and many people knock these nests down because their little neighbors are considered “pests”. If a nest appears somewhere around your home, consider that the birds living in them will be gone in just a few short weeks, and while they’re around, they’ll eat hundreds of insects every day, including mosquitoes that would otherwise be feasting on you. Once you’re certain that the birds have gone, you can remove the nests to discourage parasites and predators.
6. Don’t Poison Anyone
Even pesticides and herbicides labeled as “safe” will hurt all the living things around them, including birds. Consider the circle of life: birds eat insects and seeds, so when you spray pesticides and other poisons around, sure—a whole bunch of bugs will drop dead… but then they’ll be feasted upon by birds and fed to nestlings and fledglings, killing entire generations of songbirds. Stay the hell away from neonicotinoids, or “neonics”, as they’re lethal to birds, bees, and butterflies; even in tiny amounts.
7. Ditch the Balloons
Although balloons are quite popular for all kinds of celebrations, these bubbly decorations are lethal to birds. They can try to eat deflated balloons and then starve to death from intestinal blockages, or get tangled in/strangled by the long, trailing ribbons. Balloons can also break over waterways and then the detritus is swallowed by seabirds, including endangered species. There are so many decorations out there that can pretty up a space, and if you really can’t go without a water balloon fight on a hot day, please ensure that you pick up all of the broken bits and discard them when you’ve finished playing.
8. Turn Off Your Outdoor Lights
Not only do outdoor lights waste energy when left on all night, they also interfere with night-flying birds, especially during migration. The birds can become disoriented, lose their way, and end up smacking into windows and buildings. Keep your outdoor lights on motion sensors if you’re worried about prowlers or bears, or else use blue or green LED lights that don’t distract or confuse night birds.
9. Be a Responsible Fisher/Boater
Water birds that nest near the shoreline can abandon their eggs if disrupted or startled by too much boating activity, so if you notice a flock of birds near the shore, steer clear of them. If you’re fishing, be sure to discard all fishing line in garbage cans, as stray nets and lines are major causes of water bird deaths. Use non-lead fishing gear so you don’t end up poisonings birds that ingest lost lures, and if by some rare chance you accidentally hook a bird, don’t cut the line. Instead, cut the barb off the hook and push it backwards to remove, and then take the bird to a wildlife rehab center for care, if it’s badly injured.
It doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to make a difference, and most of the examples above only require a bit of extra conscientiousness and responsibility. Birds keep insect populations in check, help to pollinate fruit and vegetable plants, carry (and deposit) seeds, thus maintaining biodiversity, and many of their songs can cheer even the heaviest heart. Let’s take a greater role as stewards and make sure that we take better care of these sweet, fragile beings.