Prequel to “For the Birds …”

April 22, 2022

As mentioned in an earlier post, I realize there are so many things I don’t know, including information about songbirds. This spring, though, my attention and concern were already heightened because the sheer number of birds that arrived this March and April seemed so much larger than in past springs. I wished I had kept careful notes about my observations in past years as a comparison, but I didn’t. It seemed the birds were asking to be fed, so I did. And I told the story in a poem and prose, poking a bit of fun at the clumsy, well-meaning “watcher” (me) while taking a few jabs at capitalism.

The draft post was sitting on WP while my internal censor considered the message and tone from multiple vantage points. Before I felt ready to post it, I got an email from a friend about a crisis – Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was affecting the commercial turkey and chicken industry nearby. In the process of learning a bit more about HPAI, I decided to write and post something about that related issue instead – For the Birds …

The message of the draft post below, though, still seems important to share. So I decided to do so today.

April 12, 2022 – For the Birds

ah dear feathered friends

I hear your urgent plea

I’ll fill your feeders for spring

just be patient with me

*

the seeds I have here

are not very fresh

and while they’re not moldy

they’re not at their best

*

they’ll tide you over

‘till I can run to the store

I promise in a day or two

there’ll be fresh seeds galore

*

birdfeeders washed and dried

filled with “Better Bird” Premium seed

hanging back in their place

birds jostling for perches to feed

*

oops, I discovered a serious mistake

I didn’t read the ingredient list

instead choosing a bag with a liftable weight

*

birds april 14 2022 2

*

it was only the bag’s chemical smell

that later caught my attention

the list of ingredients alarming

and much too long to mention

*

another trip to another store

to buy what I hope’s safer seed

wondering why “Better Bird” thought

artificial flavor was something wild birds need

*

but it turns out the birds are a lot like me

given a choice they sometimes prefer junk food

even though it may be unhealthy or nutrient-free

*

The past few weeks were filled with Zoom trainings, spring cleaning, grading papers, prepping classes, and helping students. Still, songbirds arrived by the hundreds, excitedly chirping at me to fill the feeders. I had allowed the feeders to stay empty during the past year to discourage the rats that moved into the neighborhood when the feral cats disappeared a couple years ago. I filled the feeders with sunflower seeds from a bag in the cellar that was left over from those years after checking to make sure the seeds were not moldy, funky-smelling, or discolored. The birds emptied the feeders in less than a day, and soon the bag was emptied as well.

It was time to go to the big box store for spring supplies anyway. Most of the birdseed bags were huge and too heavy for me to lift, so I settled for the 14-pounder of premium songbird food. The birds loved it. Only later did I notice a chemical smell emanating from the bag. (I always manage to somehow poke a hole in bags before I make it to my car.) The smell prompted me to look at the list of ingredients, something I learned to do for pets, and I became very concerned. The next morning, I headed out to buy new seeds, this time paying attention to the list of ingredients.

When I got home from the store, I noticed that the feeders were almost empty. I dumped the remaining feeder contents into a paper bag, thoroughly rewashed and dried the feeders, and refilled them with the new “just seeds” food. Only a few birds returned. Those who did return avoided the feeders and ate the seeds on the ground!

I wasn’t sure how to responsibly dispose of the chemical stuff but decided the landfill might be the best option. I grabbed the paper bag and the almost full 14-pounder and headed out to the waste bin just as the garbage collector was nearing my driveway. He waved and then emptied the bin into his truck and continued on his way down the alley.

To be honest, I was horrified to find chemicals in wild birdfeed. It never occurred to me that would be a problem. I was heartsick, worried that I had unthinkingly placed the health and survival of songbirds at even greater risk.

Given my sometimes-overactive imagination, I came up with a possible explanation for the absence of birds on the refilled feeders. I wondered if some birds had watched me put the almost full bag of premium food in the bin and then encouraged their flight-mates to follow the garbage truck and boogie on up to the city dump for the tasty stuff. (I think that’s what’s called “gallows humor.”)

*

birds april 14 2022 1

5:14 PM – Aril 13, 2022

On a brighter note, there were a few birds at the feeders this evening during the next round of mid-April snow. Still, I learned a valuable lesson. I will definitely remember to read labels and be more vigilant about what I buy from now on.

Note

Assigning blame to others, even corporations, is something I try to avoid without first carefully considering issues from a variety of perspectives. I don’t have any scientific evidence that the additives in Better Bird food are harmful. Perhaps, someday I will have time to look. It is reasonable, though, to suggest that corporations which claim to care about better birds should focus on efforts that directly affect birds’ survival, like working to eliminate the use of pesticides, reduce pollution, and remediate climate change.

Sixty years ago, Rachel Carson (1962) issued a warning in her work, Silent Spring.

“On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh…

No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new in life in this stricken world. The people had done it to themselves…

A grim reaper has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know.”

What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain.” (pp. 14-15)

For now, there is evidence that Better Bird is among the corporations that support efforts to raise awareness about songbirds. They donate to Cornell Lab of Ornithology K-12 Education, enabling educators to download educational materials for free. Still, I prefer to use birdfeed that appears to be just natural seeds although they’re not often labeled to indicate whether they came from plants that were grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or GMOs.

Feeding birds is not enough, but it’s what I could do during this prolonged hungry spring.

Work Cited.

Rachel Carson (1922). Silent spring. Fawcett Crest Books.

28 thoughts on “Prequel to “For the Birds …”

Add yours

  1. Thanks for posting this, Carol. We too feed our birds here in southeastern British Columbia and are always very careful to avoid seeds or suet with any additives. If it’s not healthy for humans, why would it be healthy for wild birds? We even avoid the suet laced with peanuts, since there’s a form of peanut mold that can cause problems for birds. Without knowing how long that package has sat on the shelf, it’s impossible to know if it has had time to develop the peanut mold. Funny though that the birds cleaned up on the additive laced seeds; like you say, maybe birds like humans are drawn to junk food even if it’s no good for them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply, Art. It’s always a gift to hear from you! This year, it seemed important to fill the feeders again. I always wonder if it’s the right thing to do, and it’s comforting to know that you feed them as well. The birds are flocking to the feeders again. It’s still a bit wintry here and there doesn’t seem to be much else for them to eat. Sending my best wishes. 💜

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  2. Well, I think (uh, hope!) some birds are just simply winded from long flyings back and need to consume anything with protein and fat. Maybe these days they have to fly further south and thus, the return trip is longer, too? I don’t want to know, really, because I think they can do without the trauma of getting purposely caught in nets & weighed & measured, etc.! Some 13 or so of those listed ingredients sound dire — but again, I do not know. We can only do our hearts’ best. At times before we got feeders, that *best* has been toast, crackers, bagged bread crumbs. Anyway, thank you for doing your best!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It’s too bad that birds can’t read
    So they could see what’s in the seed
    But then they might eat it anyway
    Just like human birdbrains may.
    Thankfully birds can’t hightail it to the store and buy
    Junk food that would make them, like us, too fat to fly.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. We read Silent Spring on our English course at high school in Australia and I have never forgotten it. I never use insecticides or anything artificial in my garden and I too would have been shocked at the ingredients!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Janet. I wish Carson’s book had been on our reading list. And I wish I had a chance to learn more about birds when I was young, but I’m grateful for the chance to learn a little more now. Sending my gratitude and best wishes to you. 💜

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  5. Carol, your post on song birds and love for them rings so close in my heart.
    Like you I feed them and delight in their company each day.
    Luckily I have not come across sunflower seeds with labels of all pesticides.
    I buy the seeds and nuts from a big shop that caters for many animals.

    They pour the amount you want in a bag. From the health of the birds I guess they are not too poisoned. Oh, you must of course whisper to them and sing too. X

    Miriam

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your kindness and love of birds, Miriam. I do talk to them, although the only birds I sang to were my parakeets. Sadly the last of them, Queenie, passed away this past winter, Some nights, I sing his song as a way to thanking him, and my little dog, for all they taught me over the years. 💜

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  6. Thank you for sharing!!… I feed my backyard friends also and watch what seed I use, usually the basic blend at this time, nothing fancy… 🙂
    Life is a school in itself and “Any piece of knowledge I acquire today has a value at this moment exactly proportioned to my skill to deal with it. Tomorrow, when I know more, I will recall that piece of knowledge and use it better. “ (Mark van Doren).. 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May the dreams you hold dearest
    Be those which come true
    May the kindness you spread
    Keep returning to you
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. WoW! A heavy topic! It’s so heart breaking to bear witness to the loss of life itself but to imagine how even our best intentions can carry a poison pill is devastating. This was such a difficult post to read, feeling the joy of seeing wild songbirds but knowing in truth how desperate the situation is for all life, beauty and wild things. Thanks for your honesty and willingness to hold and examine what we would prefer to turn away from.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Carol, so much is happening in the world of birds. I keep informal records of when I see (or hear) the first birds in spring. For the last few years, I’ve heard the whippoorwill around mid-April when earlier, they always came at the very end of April. Hummingbirds, too, appear weeks earlier than in the past. I came across a Washington Post article that stated that birds are now laying eggs ONE MONTH earlier than before, thx to climate change. This all blows my mind as I was wondering what triggers the earlier migration – is it increasing warm days in Latin and South America where many of our birds overwinter, food sources decreasing there? Will they find sufficient food up here so early, especially when we still get freezing nights into May, even though many days are way too warm already?
    Oh, and don’t get me started about the bird feed. Is it another opportunity for these corporations to dump cheap materials into the feed to bulk it up? Why would birds need “artificial flavors?!” Which brings me to those intensely red sugar syrups that are being sold in stores for hummingbirds. The hummers do not need artificial food coloring. And who doesn’t have the time to make an easy sugar syrup? All it takes is 1 part sugar and 4 parts water, heated gently to completely mix the sugar, let cool and place in feeder. I have experienced with organic natural sugar but it ferments more quickly than plain white sugar. Also saves the plastic bottles the commercial sugar water comes in…back to basics always seems the most parsimonious solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so delightful to hear from you, Annette, and a gift to hear about your efforts to keep track of your observations and changes over the years. I appreciate hearing what you have learned in the process. Sending my gratitude and best wishes to you, 💜

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I enjoyed your cute poem! Hopefully the bird seed issues aren’t too dire. We used to have lots of birds in a special room at home. When I cleaned their cages on Saturday, I’d let the parakeets out for a while, and once I had no idea Mr. Smith, my cat, was in the room until I looked up and saw him slinking out with a parakeet in his mouth. He got a smack on the head, dropped the bird (the bird was fine) and I had to triple my security checks after that whenever I let the birds out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Stacey, and for sharing your parakeet story. I’m glad your parakeet survived his encounter with Mr. Smith. My parakeet, Queenie, passed away this winter. I miss him, but at the moment, have hundreds f songbirds that visit everyday. Fortunately for the birds, the feral cats that used to roam the neighborhood disappeared a few years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Unbelievable that anyone could put such rubbish in wild bird food. Only yesterday I washed and dried the feeders and filled them with seed, peanuts and suet balls. It never even occurred to me to check the ingredients. A lesson learned. Thank you, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Izzy. It never occurred to me either until the chemical smell of the bag prompted me to look to see what was in the birdfeed. I’m glad I found it after the first time I used it.

      I’m not sure why there are so many birds here this year – it seems there are hundreds of them. This morning, they emptied both newly-filled feeders in a couple hours and more birds than I could count waited in bushes and trees while I refilled the feeders. They will probably empty them again before early afternoon!

      Liked by 1 person

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