By Rose Oliver, WWO North Cascades Field Coordinator
Don’t get me wrong, I love my wild birds. In fact, one of my favorite morning activities is sitting on my front porch with a cup of coffee and watching the towhees and grosbeaks have their morning conversation. I used to feed my birds year round when I lived in the city, but ever since I’ve moved to the country I’ve chosen to feed them only in the winter months when their normal food sources are lacking, usually November through March. This not only saves me a bunch of money on bird seed, but it also helps keep the wildlife that live near me truly wild.
Bears love bird seed and some studies have shown that over 80% of human-bear conflicts can be traced back to the bear’s first encounter with a bird feeder. Since bird seed is loaded with calories, especially the black oil sunflower seeds I feed my birds, bears can get a day’s worth of calories from just one feeder. And, once a bear discovers a bird feeder, they will often visit every home in the area looking for more. Bears that become accustomed to getting food from human sources can damage property and become aggressive in their pursuit of an easy food reward, which often leads to the demise of the “nuisance” bear at the hands of wildlife authorities responding to complaints about public safety. That is why the State of Washington recently enacted a new law making it unlawful to feed large carnivores, including bears, whether knowingly or unwittingly. Fines can be levied for violating this law.
Choosing to feed your wild birds only in the winter months while the bears are usually denning can help reduce the number of feeder-related bear incidents and help keep bears safe. However, bird feeders can bring in another critter all year round, the raccoon. And we all know how much of a nuisance raccoons can be, plus having raccoons visit your property often, whether you live in the city or the country, can attract another not so desirable visitor, the cougar.
In order to minimize that risk, I choose to feed my wild birds every other day or even every three days. That way, I make sure that the wild birds are cleaning up the feeding area thoroughly before I leave more food out for them. There are also other ways to help out your feathered friends by providing nest boxes and small shallow bird baths year round. In the summer months planting specific brightly- colored and trumpet-shaped flowers will attract the wild birds to your property, but not bears or raccoons. If you do choose to put bird seed out in the winter, you can suspend the feeder between two poles high enough off the ground that bears (and raccoons) cannot reach it, say seven feet or more. Pulley systems can help you access and fill the feeders. Clean up any spilled bird seed from the ground, and store the bird seed indoors. If we all do our part to avoid unnecessary wildlife attractants, we can keep Washington’s wildlife wild!