DOOR TO NATURE: Help Native Birds Survive

There are many people who enjoy birdwatching and feeding songbirds that nest in our area. It is important to keep your feeders and bird baths clean and refreshed daily. 

The bird flu that has devastated many poultry farms does not appear to affect small songbirds. There has been evidence of larger birds like bald eagles and some ducks being infected.

A disease that can kill small songbirds is salmonella and will show up in unusually puffed up individual birds that also seem to be lethargic. If you see this at your feeders it is important to stop feeding and then clean and disinfect your feeders and baths with a 10% bleach solution.

This disease can be transmitted to pets that might drink out of infected bird baths. It can also infect humans who touch feeders or any bird that is infected. It is wise to use gloves when cleaning feeders and always wash your hands before eating or preparing food.

Salmonella infections produce fever, diarrhea and stomach cramps in people. Symptoms show up in as little as 6 hours to as long as 6 days, usually from infected food. Most people recover without treatment but some require hospitalization. The CDC says the 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths occur annually in the US.

We are now seeing more advertisements by companies who spray yards to eliminate ticks and mosquitoes. It is difficult to know if each business has properly trained workers doing the application of the chemicals. The pyrethroids (the active ingredient in these sprays) can be very dangerous to wildlife and your pets.

Sprays can drift into a neighbor’s yard and if there is a pond or stream nearby the chemical runoff can destroy dragonfly larvae. The spray substances can kill all insects including butterflies, moths, ladybugs and honey bees. Many beneficial insects may be destroyed. Nesting birds feed insects to their young, so sprays could kill the food that your songbirds require.

I learned that the toxic spray is residual, meaning it stays on all the plants that are sprayed. Every insect that comes in contact with the plants will be killed by the poisons sticking to the surface, not just mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk. The spraying is usually done during the day when few of those insects are on the wing. These creatures are attracted to carbon dioxide that is in our breath as we exhale. Even the electronic “zappers” may kill more good insects than mosquitoes. There are some wildflowers that are pollinated by mosquitoes, so they have value to the natural world.

Most mosquitoes can fly 1 to 3 miles and may easily re-populate your yard. One of the best ways to reduce mosquitoes is to eliminate standing water. It takes about seven days after a mosquito lays eggs in the water for them to hatch. It is also recommended to clean out gutters on buildings which might retain water.

Some studies have found that mosquitoes can become resistant to the pyrethroids. Mutations in one single gene are enough to make mosquitoes become unaffected and can encourage “super skeeters” to develop.

A friend loaned me a book that addresses another problem faced by many birds. The book is Solid Air: Invisible Killer by Daniel Klem, Jr. It was published in 2021 by Hancock House Publishers, Ltd. The forward is, appropriately, by Dr. David M. Bird.

Birds have much keener eyesight than any other animal with a backbone. In fact the size of their eyes is much larger than any other such creature in relation to their body size. Many studies over the years have determined that birds cannot see clear glass windows and are killed when flying into them.

There are ways that feeding stations in your yard may increase this danger. It has been found that feeders situated 20 or more feet from the home give birds many directions to fly in a rapid escape when frightened. They see trees reflected in house windows and cannot tell they are clear glass.

An ideal way to construct a home in this setting is to install the windows with a slight downward tilt so they don’t cause trees and vegetation to be reflected in them. Another safety measure is to place a minnow seining screen over the outside of a large picture window. We did that for our home and it totally stopped window kills of birds there, but it was still easy for us to see through that window.

Experts say it is best to place feeders and bird baths much closer to your home, like within five feet. The birds will become more accustomed to flying away from the building knowing it is in such close proximity.

If you are concerned with this problem there are some resources to help you. Go into your favorite Internet search engine and type in, “How to prevent bird window collisions.” You will find some interesting solutions to keep your feeder birds safe.