Backyard bird photographers: is your feeder killing birds?

PhotoCal

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If you have a feeder in your yard, it's important to take it down frequently so birds don't get acclimated.
In the West there are issues with Salmonella being spread through bird feeders. But diseases are more easily spread anywhere that birds congregate.

This is especially a problem with pan feeders, since birds will defecate in the seeds. But upright feeders are also a problem.

Taking down your feeders (and encouraging your neighbors to do the same) encourages the birds to disperse, which is good for their health.
Think about it: would you share a plate of food with strangers? Aren't we all socially distancing now to avoid spreading disease?

A good solution would be to have different feeders and rotate.
For example have a hummingbird feeder up one week. Take it down for a week and put up a suet feeder. Next week, take down the suet feeder and put the hbird feeder back up.
Clean and replace the food each time.

I wish more bird photography videos stressed the importance of considering the health of the birds, such as not baiting them or using flash.

Taking pictures of wildlife does nothing for them. And our actions can lead to their deaths.

Learning about your subjects will improve your photography, and your enjoyment of that photography.
 

Quadna71

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While I can certainly appreciate the perspective and sentiment, there do appear to be varying studies on the subject. I don’t have a feeder (for no other reason than I tire of the current level of robins in my yard) but grew up in Minnesota with suet bags a winter constant and hummingbird feeders a summer constant. Both our winter and summer birds sure seem happy to have both available. Maybe it is more of a case of the specific bird you are seeing at the feeder and not so much of an all-encompassing grouping in the topic?

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/analysis-do-bird-feeders-help-or-hurt-birds/
 
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I wish more bird photography videos stressed the importance of considering the health of the birds, such as not baiting them or using flash.

I guess you don't think of a backyard feeder as baiting since the Audubon Society is ok with it? It is actually the very definition of baiting and is no better than those that bait in other places. You talk about all this ethical stuff you espouse to yet you turn around and are ok with baiting if it is in your backyard.

As for flash, you should probably research that a little more. This is written by a Veterinary Ophthalmologists as well as an Ophthalmologist, a pair of doctors who should know about the effects of flash on animals as well as humans.
 
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Will Focus

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I've always lived under the assumption that if you are going to feed birds you have to make a commitment. First, that you will have food available for them. Second that you will keep the area as clean as possible. I have also been under the assumption, here in the northern climates that you should feed birds as the fall advances and through the winter, which often in these parts can be brutal. Then, as the weather warms and spring approaches you should gradually cut back on the food supply as they will have more natural sources to pull from.

I have never fed birds for the specific reasons of getting images, or simply watching them for that matter. Instead my outlook has always been that I am helping them through what would otherwise be sparse times and I take comfort in that. From all outward appearances they seem to agree. I have taken plenty of images of them, through glass and from the comfort of a warm living room where they haven't a clue about my presence.

Of course as with everything else in life, nothing is absolute. Changes and modifications have to be made on occasion. Squirrels love bird seed and there are few impediments that can stop their determined quest to raid a feeder. What I end up doing is giving the squirrels a reason to disregard the feeder or feeders. Peanut butter or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut up and placed away from where the birds feed usually keep the squirrels on the ground and out of trouble, or they high tail it off to some remote branch to peacefully devour their treasure. Corn, fruit and nuts keeps them occupied too, but nothing like peanut butter does.

I try to respect all animals. I drive each morning through long stretches of remote areas starting about 4am. Animals like 4am, and 5am and 6am etc. I can't tell you how many times I've locked up the brakes avoiding deer, raccoons, fox, squirrels etc. They cost me many cups of coffee for sure, and they have an uncanny way of letting me know my heart is beating in my chest.

This may be getting in the weeds bringing other species into the dialogue so to get back on point, I've never seen any bird (or animal) that has been injured, threatened or displaced by my desire to make sure they aren't going hungry. The old saying "let nature take it's course" doesn't account for our encroachment into nature. I think we have an obligation to provide the balance back.

End of whatever that was...
 
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Brownie

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The old saying "let nature take it's course" doesn't account for our encroachment into nature.
That line right there. People seem to conveniently forget the fact that our presence has a much larger effect than anything else. Yeah, that house you live in, your town, your boat, your place of business, your tent, your very being.

People rail against even the most benign outdoor activities in the interest of protecting and preserving nature...all the while clearing that piece of woods for their new home.
 

PhotoCal

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The idea behind taking down feeders from time to time is based on simple public health advise:

It causes birds to disperse, i.e., move to other sources as they would in nature. That means fewer birds in one small location.

How do you feel using a gas station restroom that is open to all? Wouldn't you rather use your own? If so, why is that?
Do you feel safer (from foodborne illnesses) in your own home or public restaurant?

Now why do I mention restrooms when we're talking about bird feeders? Because some birds defecate where they eat. And if you have a tray feeder the tray becomes a mixture of bird seed and feces, which is a way to spread the bacteria that causes illness.

But it's not just tray feeders. Birds look for seed on the ground under the feeders, which is also where their feces land.

There are a lot of media articles about this right now in California.
 
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Will Focus

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There are a lot of media articles about this right now in California.

All due respect, there are a lot of media articles about a lot of things in California. That isn't exactly the Holy Grail of truth. I understand what you are saying, but do any of those articles quantify the damage done to the bird population that decides to ingest food that is thrown out or run over in the road that happens to be covered with oil, transmission fluid, and coolant?

I'd say that I think the chicken little societies that condemn people feeding birds, or other wildlife for that matter may be over reacting, but I'm sure the Audubon Society would find something not politically correct about the term 'chicken little'. In addition, those same groups are nowhere to be found for help when you find an injured animal. I can enumerate many cases I have come across, at least 3 in the last two years alone where animals that could have and should have been helped, weren't. Those groups simply don't care. They'll take a check, but they don't return phone calls.
 

Will Focus

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Time to dial it back folks and keep it friendly or I'll close this thread.
Wow. I didn't think there was any malice in anything posted by anyone here, so let me be the first to apologize if anything I posted hurt anybody's sensitivities. I wasn't intended.
 
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My sister who lives in WA told me that once you set up a feeder, you have to maintain it because the birds learn to depend on it and will come back to it for food. That recognizes that bird feeders change bird behavior, perhaps not necessarily for the better. One could also say it helps them survive through lean times. Pros and cons for everything. Ditto with bird baths. I would take advantage of photography at them if they're up. Wot da heck, I like (so do my sister and Mom) watching them at the feeders. Agreed that frequent changes of food and cleaning are good ideas. Doesn't always get done.
 
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I have feeders in my yard. So I googled Audubon society bird feeders. When I go to their website there is a link to woodlink.com who sell Audubon branded bird feeders and they have all styles including platform feeders. They even discuss setting up feeders in your yard to enjoy birds. I didn’t find any discussion about the ethics though it may be there somewhere.

I don’t disagree with cleaning feeders and we do that periodically. However, I have a hard time with a hard line about feeding birds since it has been done safely for millennia. A number of birds species are ground feeders in the wild that feed on available food while dropping their business in the feeding area all the time.

I can tell you when we were covered in ice here in Texas a few weeks ago the birds were happy for the food. We had numerous birds coming to our yard to feed and we kept warm water in the bird bath. So follow common sense and enjoy the birds.
 

PhotoCal

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Regarding bird feeders:
Last week there was a story in the San Francisco media about taking down bird feeders because of Salmonella risk.

The idea is you don't want birds to congregate, which spreads disease. We're all socially distancing right now for the same reason.

Animals will seek out easy sources of food. Wild animals are (as far as we know) not aware of their biological/viral risks.

In regards to the post about not helping injured wildlife: there are multiple organizations that do. There may be isolated cases when they are not able to.
For example, a few months back a bird rescue group had a massive effort at Tulelake NWR to reduce the spread of a communicable disease that killed thousands of birds. One of the factors was a lack of water at the refuge which leads to birds congregating in greater numbers.


Yes, the Audubon Society sells bird feeders. The recommendation is to take them down now, during this outbreak. They should not be left up in perpetuity (week after week). It is healthier for birds if they disperse to find other sources of food, which they will.

Wildlife was able to survive for millenia without humans feeding them.


As for artificial light, the Audubon Society specifically says "sparingly". If artificial light was not a problem for wildlife it would not make that recommendation.
Certainly the Audubon Society encourages bird photography. And some photographers use flash and think it's justified. The Audubon Society, which relies on donations, doesn't want to come down to hard. I understand the politics of it.

I wish the Audubon Society's warning was stronger but I know it also depends on support from photographers. I don't rely on money, so I can speak freely.

If you understand wildlife biology you will realize artificial light does not benefit birds. Bird life is very fragile. An inability to hunt for even a few minutes can lead to a weaker animals. Think of how you feel when seeing a flash or strobe.

If your actions kill a bird you will likely never know.

Common sense is no longer common. If it was we wouldn't be in a pandemic that's killed 500,000 people in the US alone.

Not everything on the planet is better with human intervention.

If we enjoy photographing the environment and wildlife, we need to respect it.

Your pictures are really not that important.
 
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PhotoCal

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Except in California where EVERYTHING now gives you cancer thanks to Prop 65.. I am sure birdseed and the feeders are now labeled as such.

You need to read the law. Proposition 65 requires the labeling of products. I'm not aware of studies linking cancer to bird feeders.
We should be mindful of zoonotic diseases. Humans and some animals can transmit some diseases to each other (remember swine flu)? And of course a bird bath can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which are very good transmitters of diseases.

I recently read that mosquitoes are the most dangerous animals on the planet, so good bird-bath maintenance is important.

Bird photographers/birders do need to protect themselves from skin cancer. Wear a large-brimmed hat, long sleeves and pants, and stay in the shade when possible.
 

demiro

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This birdpoop is a little confusing. Some of us (Americans) literally kill birds for fun. We call that "hunting", and say it's a hobby or sport or something. Others kill birds but at least also eat them. So that seems better, except for the bird. Still others (the majority of us, I think) eat farm-raised birds, most of which are treated despicably. Maybe they don't count because they're not so colorful and pretty?

I don't claim to speak for the birds, but I'm guessing that flash photography is way down on their list of grievances. Don't even get me started on windmills...

I don't agree that taking photos of wild animals does nothing to help them. I'm not suggesting it's the answer to all of their prayers or anything, but it does help raise awareness to some degree. A lot of the work that @Phocal has shared with us is a great example of that, though granted, he's not the backyard bird-feeder type photographer.
 

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