Laura Parker Roerden writes, consults, and speaks about kids’ connection to themselves, each other, and the earth. She directs Ocean Matters, a nonprofit that helps save threatened marine resources. She believes good food can connect us to the earth and one another and thinks today’s young people are reason to be hopeful about the environmental problems facing us. She lives on Jo-Erl Farm, a fifth generation family farm with her husband, three boys, and an assortment of fruit trees and farm animals. You can find her online at Salt from the Earth and on Twitter @LParkerRoerden
When I think of feeding the birds, nostalgic images of Julie Andrews singing in Mary Poppins come to mind—“tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag” or my grandfather out in the hay fields throwing scratch to the free-ranging chickens.
Throwing seeds that we have tucked in our pockets to the wild birds in your backyard or that we’ve brought to a city park in a paper bag has almost a meditative quality to it. The seeds land softly, the birds alight to the ground, and in an instance there is a sort of communion, a sense of mutual nurturance.
My mother loved her backyard bird feeders, which she watched through the kitchen window while doing the dishes or cooking. But what are the environmentally correct ways to feed wild birds? We see signs in parks dissuading us from feeding because of dependencies we might create in wild animals and the natural cycles of migration we might interrupt. But these issues are largely about public health and not applicable when it comes to most wild birds you’ll find in your backyard.
Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Feed birds healthy, fresh food just like they eat in the wild: nuts, seeds, suet, fruits, nectars are all great choices. Bread is not recommended because it has little to no nutritional value. Table scraps are also not a good idea as they will also attract rodents and other predators of the birds. It’s important to keep your feeder clean and the food fresh, however, to avoid inadvertently sickening the birds with mold or bacteria.
- You can choose to feed the birds year round, but you might enjoy paying special attention to the migration patterns of your bird population, stopping once the songbirds have left for balmier climes if you live in the north or vice versa if you live in the south. Very bad weather events in northern climates, such as ice and snow that last for days on end are particularly important times to feed the birds, as food will be scarce for them.
3. You can save a lot of money by planting fruit, seed, and nectar producing trees and plants as a way to both attract and keep a resident wild bird population. We have a small orchard of fruit trees that acts as a bird feeder all winter long as remnants of dried leftover fruit stay on the tree and ground. If you can have an open compost pile in your neighborhood, you’ll also attract a large variety of birds for no extra effort or money.
4. Look for opportunities to feed the birds seed producing vegetables that might have gone into your compost and involve your children as a project. Leftover pumpkins after Halloween (if they are not yet rotting) and seeds you’ve scooped from squash or tomatoes are excellent ways to draw birds to your yard and study them close up.
Visit us at Salt from the Earth and let us know some of your best tips for feeding the birds.