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Chances are, while you are in lockdown, you’ve popped up a bird feeder, or you’ve taken to birdwatching, even if it’s off-and-on from your new home office window.
You might have even found yourself asking “have these brightly-colored birds always been here?”
They have, but not so close to us humans. They haven’t needed our help so desperately before.
Birds in Spring 2020 – What Is Going On?
They’re eye-catching, gorgeous, vibrant – the words could go on – and they seem to be here in droves.
In early May in New England, a record-breaking snowstorm sent temperatures below freezing. In the Southern United States, half of May – more than half in some places – has consisted of temperatures in the 50s and below.
For reference, the typical May temperatures hover between 70 and 80-degrees Fahrenheit. A low average is between 50 and 60-degrees.
That might not mean much to us when we can purchase our food in steady supply from the local grocer and our homes are heated and cooled to our whim.
To the birds, it can be life or death.
They’re not freezing, mind you – they’re starving. Because of the low temperatures, the insect population has dwindled drastically. This blog post from Julie Zickefoose sums it up perfectly in a single quote:
This is an unprecedented, grindingly cold, wet and insect-poor April and May. Insectivorous birds who normally tweetle away in the treetops, eating caterpillars along their way to their northerly breeding grounds, are being stopped in their tracks by starvation. Driven down to our feeders. They’re beautiful and entertaining, but make no mistake: they are also desperate. And those who scramble to provide food for them are doing hero’s work, keeping them alive so they can continue on their way when the weather finally does what it’s supposed to do in late April…mid May…late May…When will this ever end??
Julie’s thoughts are shocking, and certainly makes you take stock of what’s going on around you.
It’s not just because of the pandemic. It’s not because we’re staying home more – it’s that the birds are starving, and they’re going to the best food source around: our bird feeders.
These birds aren’t migrating as quickly as they would otherwise, because they don’t have the food to. They don’t have the energy to migrate, and for those who are nesting, their chicks will be born in one of the toughest Springs birds have ever gone through.
It also begs the question… If this is visibly happening to birds, what are we not seeing?
Julie goes on in her blog post to talk about how she has also been feeding grounded woodpeckers. Woodpeckers naturally stay in the trees, searching for bugs in the bark by drilling holes in the tree with their beaks. Unless you’re working with a ground-feeding woodpecker, you never want to see a woodpecker on the ground.
Just the other day, I stopped in my tracks when I saw a woodpecker fly down from his perch on a tree to start foraging on the ground. It was so bizarre to me to see, but I hadn’t yet connected the dots.
It was this turn of events, between the woodpecker, seeing more birds, and reading Julie’s post that actually made me stop and realize that I had to write for HerbSpeak in earnest, rather than letting it go yet another year without attention.
It’s not like the information hasn’t been out there, we’ve just been turning a blind eye to it. In February of 2019, this graph was posted, showing the average decline in insect populations over the past decade:
No, don’t keep scrolling – read back over that chart once more.
We’re so worried about bees – rightfully so since they are major pollinators – but caddisflies are nearly extinct. Caddisflies are a major food source for spiders, bats, dragonflies, and several types of freshwater fish.
Think about the sheer collapse that cornerstone food source can cause if we allow them to become extinct.
For now, however, let’s take a step back and looking back up at the bird feeder. We know that insects have seen a rapid decline. We see the bids struggling through a cold Spring on top of already rapid insect decline.
What Can I Do About It?
These birds desperately need our help. They have no other options.
If we are going to make it through this, we as people need to stand up for these animals in our ecosystem. Without birds, we will see a rapid decline in several animal and plant species. From there, the domino effect keeps going and going and going…
There are two major things you can do to help birds survive this spring:
- Spread the Word
- Feed Them
- Give Nature a Break
Spread the Word:
It takes all of five seconds to share this onto your social media page. Thirty if you want to include your own thoughts in the post as well.
Are you willing to give one minute of your time to save the lives of several dozen birds and newly hatched chicks?
Tag bird-loving friends. Share it to your favorite eco groups. Tell others what they can do to help support birds.
We’ve made a shareable graphic that you can repost onto your own social media:
At my local store, who delivers to my door, I purchased a $3 perch feeder that allows me to fill it with typical “wild bird seed” or with Nyjer seed. Nyjer – Guizotia abyssinica – is also called thistle seed and will attract smaller birds like finches, song sparrows, buntings, and doves. They also make Nyjer socks which you can hang. These are pre-filled with Nyjer and are very comfortable for smaller birds to perch on.
Your hummingbird feeder will not only feed hummingbirds, but it will also help the local flying, nectar-loving insect population. If you don’t have other flowering plants like clover and dandelions, bumblebees and other flying insects will love you for the nectar.
To make hummingbird nectar, simply mix a 1:4 ratio of pure sugar to filtered or distilled water.
That’s 1 cup of sugar to every 4 cups of water.
An important note about hummingbird feeders is that you do need to clean it out weekly to prevent mold growth – this mold can actually kill the hummingbirds – and the nectar should also be changed out to prevent bacteria growth inside the liquid.
On Julie Zuckfoose’s blog, she also makes what she calls Zick Dough. You can see the full recipe here. I’ve taken to filling the suet containers with this.
You can optionally fill your suet containers with larger fruits such as grapes on the vine, orange halves, grapefruit halves, cherries, blueberries and raisins.
For the blueberries, cherries, and raisins, you might need to secure a small bowl to the top of your feeder and place them in there.
Fruits will go sour and rot quickly, especially as the weather warms up, so keep an eye on the fruit and replace it every other day, or as soon as you see any mold.
A bumble bee buzzing happily on my patio, enjoying a meal of white clover (trifolium repens.)
Give Nature a Break
You might have heard of the #NoMowMay trend that is going around. Citizens across the world are petitioning their city not to mow grass for the month of May after seeing how drastically it has helped wild insect populations.
Many who are in charge of their own lawns are opting not to mow for No Mow May – like myself – and we are watching the insect population flourish, providing a haven for birds and other smaller wildlife.
More insects mean healthier, better fed birds.
If you’re using chemicals on your lawn, stop.
Not only is this directly harming your health, but it also greatly affects the plant life and insect population.
Let your natural yard grow out. Seriously. Your neighbors might complain, but you’re doing the world a good deed. Stick a sign in your front yard that says something to the effect of “Ecosystem Support Yard” if you have to.
In my backyard, I currently have a half acre of white clover, and a beautiful patch of Prairie nymph flowers – Herbertia lahue – that have appeared right next to our patio. Our insect population is thriving – you can see bumblebees buzz around the clover all day, grasshoppers jumping across the mixed grasses, and so many other wonderful signs of life and movement.