Food for thought

As annual count approaches, be careful supplementing birds

The white eye-ring and gray head identify this Nashville warbler, photographed recently in Nucla and one of the many migrating birds that may been seen during the Grand Valley Audubon Society’s Spring Bird Count. The count is set for May 10 and is open to birders of all levels of experience.

Leon Thurmon of Little Park Road in Grand Junction photographed this Lazuli Bunting at a feeder earlier this month. Not uncommon in the Grand Vallley, but uncommonly beautiful.

With the spring migration hard upon us and the wind filled with FOS (first of season) birds soaring through western Colorado, this is a great opportunity to add to your life list.

The Grand Valley Audubon Society is hosting its annual Spring Bird Count on May 10 in conjunction with International Migratory Bird Day, celebrated in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Latin America.

The goal of the count is to get a one-day picture of the neo-tropical songbirds moving through the lower 48 states.

It’s not a complete picture, of course, but it helps immensely in answering some of the mysteries of migration.

You can get involved in the local count (no birding experience necessary) by going online to

Although birders take their craft seriously, there is a bit of levity found even on the most serious of birding sites.

For example, most birders recognize the value of providing supplemental feed to birds.

Here, though, are some suggestions of what not to feed birds (or at least do so in moderation):

Peanut butter — That sugar-boosted peanut butter you find in grocery stores is OK for birds, (for you, maybe not so good) especially in the cooler months when it won’t get too soft or rancid.

However, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “There is some concern that soft peanut butter can stick to birds’ mouths.”

Bummer. Where would 1958 one-hit wonder Bobby Day have been if his “Rockin’ Robin” had had a beakful of Skippy?

Jelly — Many warblers, orioles and other birds will come to a jelly feeder. Grape seems to be particularly popular.

This from Cornell: “Make sure to only offer very small quantities at once, because jelly gets extremely sticky; small birds can become mired in it.”

Interesting scenario, but I’m not sure the Grand Valley Audubon Society will ever let bowls of grape jelly replace their mist nets.

Bread — This, according to the website, is the total junk food for birds. No matter how much you love to see the semi-tame mallards at West Lake swarming into your chunks of day-old white bread, bread offers wild birds the following: malnutrition (especially young birds); obesity (too much bread makes it hard to fly); aggression (nothing uglier than ducks fighting over a chuck of bread); and pollution (an indirect but serious result of uneaten bread).

Bread is particularly bad if combined with the first two.

Suet — Some birds love, love, love fat (see bacon, below). Especially jays and starlings, both species you might not want hanging around your suet feeder. Happily, neither of these birds enjoy hanging upside down, so experts recommend putting suet in a position that doesn’t seem to bother preferred species such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees.

Bacon drippings — The Cornell lab says this about that: “(B)acon virtually always has detectable amounts of nitrosamines, carcinogenic compounds formed from some of the preservatives used in bacon. In particular, the very high cooking temperatures used to fry bacon are conducive to nitrosamine formation. So despite the fact that birds love it, bacon and bacon fat pose too much of a risk to the long-term health of birds to warrant using it.” Enough said.

Finally, Valentin Amrhein of the University of Basel, in Switzerland, asked himself if providing supplemental feed to birds really is good for them. The answer, it turns out, is a qualified “no” for some birds.

Arhein discovered that male birds receiving food supplements got lazy during the spring dawn chorus.

Arhein and his colleagues report in the journal Animal Behaviour their research indicated 36 percent of the males who fed regularly at bird feeders started singing only after the sun had already come up.

Only 10 percent of the birds without the supplemental food waited so long to start their day.

If you can’t resist feeding birds, you can be assured that your efforts, even in the summer, won’t be wasted.

According to the birding page on the website, it’s a myth that feeders should be put away in the summer.

Even when there is plenty of natural food available, “parent birds have hungry hatchlings to feed in summertime and those demanding mouths require a great deal of food to be satisfied.”

Backyard feeders offer parent birds a reliable source of food and backyard birders running summer feeders “will enjoy the spectacle of adult birds bringing their young to feeders to teach them how to take advantage of the bounty.”

Just be careful what you put out there.


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