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Remember the Birds on this Snowy Solstice

If you're cold today, think how the birds feel. In the old times, there was always enough to feed the birds through the winter. There were bits of grain clinging to dried stalks, fruit still hanging on bare branches and laying in fermented heaps beneath the trees, seeds scattered across the ground waiting for the spring, nuts safely tucked into brush piles where they would have been stored since the high summer. But urban wastelands, big box parking lots, and rolling suburbia have turned the once verdant fields into a deceptively green, chem-lawned desert. Grasses have been cut short and never allowed to bear seed, gardens have been kept prim and cleaned up for the season. Wild lands have been reduced to cement and sparse, sterile, foundation plantings. If you still care about the wild beings, now is the time to take it into your own hands to help them find warmth and plenty on this Solstice. Blessed Be.
Icicles two feet long hang from the rafters before my windows, refracting the winter light through their glaze. The ferns lie flat somewhere beneath the snow. I have left a healthy garden, though. I have let the grass grow tall and bear fat seed, the way grass should be allowed to do. So it's dried now, and though some is laying deep beneath the snow, some of the taller stalks still poke above the white, there around the edges, bearing rice-like seed. I have let native Oregon Grape and holly grow on their own, where they would, and so sprays of tiny, dark seeds and plump red berries hang enticingly from branches. When flowers went to seed, I left them where they stood. And now, the darkened seed heads still grace the frozen stalks, leaning out of the snow. I let shrubs go wild all around the garden, and when I did need to trim something back just to leave room along a pathway, I piled the branches in brush piles along the perimeters of my garden.

So on Solstice, the shortest day of the year, my garden is filled with birds. Starlings, blue jays, juncos, finches, sparrows. There is at least one robin. There are wrens. There are towhees. There is even a red-shafted flicker, though I feed odd to say the name, as if I should be wearing a silly vest and marking it down on a list of birds I've seen. And high up in the branches of a locust tree, nestled against a line of evergreens, I can see a little anna's hummingbird who stayed here and is probably wondering why right now. The driving snow pelts down on their soft feathers, and they bunch up together against the cold. But there are snug burrows in brush piles and shrubs for them here. There are hollowed out nests in rotting logs, and places to nestle among evergreen boughs. There are seeds and grains for them to eat, because I thought of them when it was summer, and I left these things where they were. It is the untidiness of my garden that brings them here.

But because so much of the world is paved over, or flattened beneath toxic, manicured lawns out there in suburbia, they need more than my little garden can provide right now. They slowly strip the seed heads from what is left of the icy flowers, and they pull up every last stalk of grass from below the snow. They pull the holly berries from the branches, and they wait for more. It's so cold out there, they need a lot of fuel just to keep themselves warm. And they're beautiful. I think they need our help.

Please put some food out for the birds today. You can toss whole wheat bread from windows, or set out plates of cut up winter fruit. You can roll a pine cone in peanut butter and then press seeds into it and hang it from a tree. You could even hang ten or twenty from a tree! You can cook them oatmeal or polenta, and set it out on a plate or throw it from your window. They love sunflower seeds. They love millet. Some birds prefer seeds, some like nuts and grains, some like fruit. Try all kinds of things. The more you put out, the more birds will come for the feast. Jays will eat almost anything, and will hide things around for later.

A word about starlings: Some people who think they know something about birds will denigrate starlings. They will tell you not to feed them, they will lecture you about how starlings are not native and displace native birds, including our beloved blue birds. Some awful avian xenophobes have actually recommended shooting them. Don't listen! A recent study from Cornell University was the first and only study to actually explore the issue of the impact of starlings on native birds. (Before this study, it was always just assumed.) Turns out, in fact, that starlings were found to have absolutely NO negative impact on ANY species of native bird, including the blue bird. Turns out, they can live in harmony with our native birds just fine. So feed them too! Because what could be cooler than a flock of starlings! They're related to myna birds, and are capable of mimicking almost any sound. They are gregarious and intelligent, and very tolerant of human company.

Blue jays are another species of bird that is often scorned by people who should know better. Some people are way too controlling with wildlife. They think blue jays "steal" too much of the food they put out. They think jays are too "bossy." This just makes me crazy. Blue jays are members of the Corvid family, related to crows and ravens and magpies. They are among the most intelligent of birds. They have a crazy sense of humor, and are well known for playing tricks on each other, on humans, on cats, and on other kinds of birds. One more thing most people do not seem to understand: Blue jays also feed lots of other birds and animals through the winter. Because they scoop up nuts and seeds from feeders, and then they tuck the nuts and seeds all over the neighborhood, where other birds and small animals often find them and feast on them.

Starlings, jays, and all the other birds are cool! And they need your help today. It will be a long, cold, sacred night tonight. Help keep them warm and snug as they await the returning of the light with us, on this winter Solstice.

Water Too!!!!! 21.Dec.2008 17:43

lil birdy

Also, Please put water our for the birds and keep filling it up because it will get frozen. They really need water right now because everything is frozen. It is incredibly important. I have put bowls of water out by my bird feeder. I have also been getting birds that I have never seen at my bird feeder...robins, blue birds etc. Any more tips for helping wildlife? I have also been putting out dog food for any strays or lost animals.....hoping they are all inside but because a lot of humans are stupid and careless.....I know there are lost/stray animals out there :(

Feeding Birds, Raccoons Diet, Randon Musings 21.Dec.2008 19:25

Ernest Seton-Thompson vs. "Teddy" Rabbit Killer Roosevelt

Yes food, small sunflower seeds in my two bird feeders, and unfrozen water. But I have been feed territorial raccoons with Costco Atta-Boy dog food for about 12 years. They don't complain, but lately I've started to ponder that if it has too much unnamed "poultry by products" in it for my own dogs, then perhaps a better raccoon feed would be just plain corn...dry and on the cob. Does anyone out there know the most healthy, inexpensive, staple food for a bunch (13 in the winter) of spoiled suburban raccoons?

As another aside I was on the Rogue river with a group of 12 on the wilderness section, 34 miles of roadless river, when a group of deer came wandering into our kitchen. Exactly half the group started feeding them our apples, of which we had a surplus, and the other half started throwing rocks at them.

"They will become unafraid of humans otherwise!"

"This is a wilderness protected corridor for 30 miles... no guns are allowed!"

"Wild animals should stay wild and away from humans!"

"Wild animals and humans should learn to be friends! Humans could learn a thing or two!"

Even Ed Abbey learned that keeping up a Berlin Wall between Nature and Nurture is idiotic.

Robinson Jeffers feed his wild Hurt Hawk. Yes, he finally shot it when it was hopeless... a death with dignity, not his first choice. "Except the penalty, I'd rather shoot a man than a hawk," said Jeffers.

all for appreciating wildlife 21.Dec.2008 21:06

but they don't need your help any more than they ever did

Birds are wild animals whose numbers are in equilibrium with their food supply.

If there is less food around than there was 200 years ago, then there are fewer birds as well.

Actually I disagree..... 21.Dec.2008 23:03

lil birdy

In urban areas the birds habitat has been artificially altered. So I feel a degree of responsibility to try and counter that by feeding them birdseed and planting native plants.

population will rise or fall until each surviving bird can barely get by 22.Dec.2008 04:50

no matter how much or little you feed them

if you put out more bird food, the bird population will increase until there is once again barely enough per bird

and the average amount of bird-hunger per bird per year will stay the same over the long term

Actually, birds DO need our help, to overcome our ignorance 22.Dec.2008 16:41

wildlife

Yes, you DO need to feed birds in the winter, unless you want them all to starve. The thing is, humans have artificially altered the environment, as someone said above. To such a degree, in fact, that many songbirds are going extinct. They can't find enough food because everyone is either paving over or putting lawns over open spaces. People seem to think a garden should be well manicured, which is AWFUL for wildlife. The typical American "garden," consisting of a big, sterile lawn that feeds nothing but slugs, bordered by a few tightly trimmed foundation plants, is a desert. There is nothing there to feed anyone. If that is what your garden looks like, then you need to make up for the missing shrubs, seed heads, fruits, and nuts by putting out food. If that is what your neighbors' yards look like, then you need to put out food to make up for their ignorance.

Happily, many people in the pacific NW are learning to garden for wildlife again, so that is good. But until every garden is graced with un-dead-headed flowers, tall grass that has gone to seed without being cut, native plants that bear fruits and nuts, and untidy borders overgrowing paths, well, we need to put out food for the birds.

Not only do most people mow down the plants that would otherwise feed the birds, but many people also tend to crowd lots of cats and dogs into small urban areas, which is very hard on wildlife. Predators are not normally concentrated so heavily in such small areas as they are around humans.

So yes, feed the birds. There is no "equilibrium" anywhere near where humans inhabit the landscape, and it blows my mind that anyone would be silly enough to suggest that there is. Balance and equilibrium are EXACTLY what the birds do NOT have right now, thanks to humans. Don't even suggest that they do.

As for feeding other wildlife, though, I am with you in heart, but I think it's just asking for trouble for those animals. I love coyotes, and would happily feed them through the winter and make friends with them, but most humans are assholes and any animals that you habituate to human presence will eventually be seen as some sort of ridiculous "threat" to people who believe that wild animals must be "managed." I think it's the stupidest thing on earth, but because so many people do things like shoot or trap wild animals, I would never recommend feeding raccoons, deer, or any other wild mammals. People are just really ignorant, and like to kill anything that is not fearful enough of us. It's like they want some weird kind of Respect or something. Totally bizarre. But please don't feed and tame wild animals other than birds, because you're just going to get them shot.

Should you feed wild birds in winter? 22.Dec.2008 17:03

here's what the research says

Cornell University says you should feed wild birds in the winter, and they have a whole page to teach you how to do it:

 http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/attracting/feeding/

OSU says to make sure birds get enough to eat by letting your garden grow wild and making sure there are bird foods growing there. But they also say you should supplement with a winter feeder, and they urge you to do it "responsibly":

 http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/story.php?S_No=90&storyType=garden

University of Exeter and Queens University in Belfast did a study that demonstrates that feeding birds in winter is beneficial to them:

 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080205191210.htm

 http://www.physorg.com/news121499385.html

Live Science says "Study: It's OK to Feed Wild Birds" (with some caveats about feeding nestlings):
 http://www.livescience.com/animals/080207-bird-feeding.html

Yep, it looks like it's a good idea to feed the birds. Here are some other interesting pages about feeding birds:

 http://www.ecosystema.ru/eng/eftm/manuals/sp01.htm

 http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/FAQsBirdFeeding.htm#rice