Bird feeding allows us to enjoy nature's beauty in our own backyards. Adding a variety of native plants to your garden is the best way to provide food, as well as shelter, for local and migrating birds. In addition, a varied feeding station can entice an array of colourful birds to visit. However, feeders can also attract some less welcome species. Whether due to their gluttonous appetite, excessive numbers, or simply unappreciated presence, certain creatures that take advantage of our generosity are often considered a nuisance at best.
Some homeowners will go to great lengths to rid their yard of these "pests". It helps to understand that all wildlife is merely acting as its instincts dictate. They are all there trying to fill their hunger - some are just more aggressive about it. Sometimes tolerance is in order, especially as efforts to limit access for problem species may also hinder desirable species with similar feeding habits. For more serious problems examine your feeding strategy.
Some Potential Birdfeeder Bullies:
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
Introduced in the 1890's, the European starling is highly adaptable even in areas of intense urbanization. Although helpful as insect predators, starlings can be gluttons at birdfeeders.
House Sparrow - Passer domesticus
This Old World sparrow was introduced in the mid 1800's, spread quickly, and is now famous for aggressively stealing nesting sites. While their young feed on insects, flocks of adults often crowd out feeders.
American Crow - Corvus brachyrhynchos
Crows are highly intelligent, social creatures who have adapted to urban settings. Although more likely to cause problems on garbage day, they occasionally become an issue at feeders by scaring away smaller birds.
Red Squirrel - Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
Renowned for destroying feeders and devouring bird food, squirrels are the bane of many. Their acrobatics and determination make them fascinating to watch once you come to terms with their persistent presence.
Norway Rat - Rattus norvegicus
This foreign species has successfully established itself across North America. Older, densely populated areas with easily available garbage are their favourite haunts. Once established, they will take advantage of improperly stored or spilled birdseed.
Domestic Cat - Felis catus
Domestic cats are predators that hunt instinctively even when not hungry. Free-roaming cats are having a serious impact on bird populations and often take advantage of bird feeding areas.
Sharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatus
Sharp-shinned hawks feed primarily on other birds. Occasionally they take advantage of crowded feeders. This demonstration of the sometimes-cruel reality of nature can be disturbing to see.
Maintaining the Balance
• Mixes that contain a high proportion of items such as hulled oats, rice, peanut hearts, corn, millet, and wheat can bring in such species as pigeons, starlings, and house sparrows. Switch to separate feeders of black oil sunflower seed and thistle seed.
• Shorten or remove perches from tubular feeders to give advantage to smaller birds.
• Use specially adapted feeders - weight sensitive or those surrounded by a metal cage - to allow smaller birds to feed while keeping out most larger birds and squirrels.
• For the best chance at thwarting squirrels, place feeders on posts with a baffle underneath. Ensure they are placed at least 3 metres from launching points such as trees or fences.
• Use metal feeders to prevent chewing by squirrels.
• Don't place feeders over decks where spilled seed can accumulate for rats to find.
• Store seed in rodent-proof containers.
• Use feeders with large trays or higher edges to keep feed from falling to the ground. Clean spilled seed from underneath feeders.
• Keep cats indoors, on a leash or in a separate area of the garden.
• Avoid ground feeding.
• Place feeders and birdbaths farther than "pouncing" distance from dense shrubbery or other cat hiding places. But provide shelter, such as dense shrubs or trees, just outside this distance as an escape from hunting hawks.
• For serious problems it may be necessary to stop feeding for a while.