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