Another example of natural vs. artificial feeding pros and cons

vonyonOctober 23, 2005

This morning when I woke up and looked out my window, I saw a beautiful sharphsin hawk sitting on a bluebird box that is placed near the elderberry patch. He sat there and hoped to prey on the songbirds that feed on the elderberries. Watch as he might, the songbirds stayed inside the foliage and were impossible for him to catch. It was an amazing thing to watch.

I saw a similar situation one winter when a squirrel stayed in the lower tangled branches of a shrub in full view of a red-tailed hawk. As capable as these birds are on the wing, they are equally clumsy in an area of cover. The squirrel knew this and sat there thumbing his nose at the hawk. I watched the hawk unsuccessfully try to maneuver down to where the squirrel was for about 10 minutes until he gave up.

The raptors and other predators will always notice where their prey concentrates to feed--whether it is at a feeder or in a patch of natural food. To me this just provides further evidence that natural food is a superior choice for feeding birds and other wildlife. It not only feeds them but helps to protect them from predators.

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Elly_NJ(NJ z6)

Good point.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 10:06AM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

But here's something to think about - a hawk is going to eat the same number of birds no matter what. It only eats enough to satisfy its hunger. It does not eat more if food is more readily available, it is only able to stop feeding sooner. So essentially what you're doing is saying "Not in my backyard." You're not preventing hawks from eating songbirds, only potentially changing the location in which they do it.

I'm not advocating that people stop planting native plants - all of my landscaping is natives and I know full well what a great diversity of animals and birds those plants attract. But to claim that native plantings deter hawks from feeding on songbirds is a bit disingenuous. They're still catching birds - but maybe more often where you can't see them.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 2:50PM
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Jill, You make an interesting point. I do think that a lot of people do not want hawks eating in their yards. One of the most common posts on this board seem to involve people getting upset with birds of prey when the same birds of prey notice the feeders and decide to sit and prey on the songbirds that frequent the feeders. While I don't encourage hawks to eat in my yard, I would not discourage it either. To me, predators are a necessity to a healthy ecosystem.

I think you may have misunderstood what I'm getting at....I'm not saying that the natural plantings will deter a hawk from eating. I'm not even suggesting that he/she should go eat somewhere else. I'm just trying to point out that the natural plantings give the song birds a fighting chance. I have realized through observations, such as the one mentioned, that by having a feeder, the songbirds are made easy pickings. In a sense, I have started to think that feeders lure birds to an area and leave them somewhat vulnerable.

Do you know if any studies have been done on the effects that artificial feeding or abundance of food in one way or another affect populations of wildlife? I would assume that abundance of food would surely have an effect on the size of a population. If that is the case, I wonder if having an easy, abundant supply of food may even artificially increase the songbird and subsequently the hawk population? I remember reading an article about a woman in Alaska that was feeding bald eagles the refuse from the cannery that she worked at. Before she knew it, this became a full time job and she began to have to purchase additional food for the eagles. It was a fascinating story, but after reading it, I wondered how the eagles would fare if she were to become unable to continue with the feeding for one reason or another. I also wondered about the effect on the population. Just something else to think about!

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 4:43PM
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Vonyon is exactly right. Natural plantings give prey animals--not just songbirds, but all prey--a fighting chance.

I for one am DELIGHTED to see hawks hanging around, and I wish we had foxes and coyotes. If we had predators we would have something approaching a natural ecosystem, and all animal populations would be more normal.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 7:27PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

I'm not aware of any specific research as to whether or not artificial feeding has increased any songbird populations; I do recall reading that there is some belief that artificial feeding has allowed many species to extend their ranges into what would otherwise be marginal territories (cardinals heading northward, etc.)

Given all of the other factors affecting our raptor populations, I doubt that potentially easier pickings at bird feeders would be enough to increase their populations - in fact, it might be what raptors in suboptimal areas need to maintain their populations. Think about your typical suburban landscape where most bird feeders are located - there's not a lot of habitat left for the hawks to raise their young, even if they treat the area as a McDonald's.

I'm also going to have to disagree that feeders necessarily make birds any more vulnerable to hawks. My feeders are all located in or near cover, and the birds there are exposed to the same amount as their compatriots stripping the flower beds bare. I have seen many hawks bomb through the yard looking for a meal, and they don't target the feeders. They tend to prefer going for the birds on the edges of the brush piles (the sharpie's favorite), or the MODOs out in the open (and not near feeders; the Cooper's favorite). And there are just as many goldfinches congregated on the asters and rudbeckia as on the thistle socks.

There are lots of valid reasons to not rely on artificial feeding - the potential spread of disease if the feeders are not maintained diligently; encouraging non-native birds if you offer the wrong kind of seed; and forgetting to offer natural foods, which also provide shelter and nest sites. But I'm not worried about encouraging the hawks, and I believe that I feed supplemental foods responsibly.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 7:51PM
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Jill: My apolgies for any ill feelings this post has caused. I am not questioning anyone's ability to offer food responsibly. You make some interesting points, and I have always enjoyed your posts.

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not making a value judgement on those who offer foods artificially. I'm just making a point of something I observed. It was not meant to be questioning people who offer artificial feeders, just to provide another observation for anyone that might be trying to make a decision about how to offer food to wild birds.

I have seen hawks targeting meals around feeders and I have also read many posts on here from people that have noticed similar things in their yards. So, I'm glad you don't seem to notice that in your own yard. Your thoughtful placement of the feeders probably has something to do with it.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 10:09PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

Right, the key is to use these responsibly... Which a lot of people won't do. I was the first to put up hopper type feeders too close to the watching window - and naturally many people find this a seductive opportunity to watch birds closely without binoculars... 'Till one day a kestrel burst into a flock of redpolls feeding, during a big snowstorm, and almost killed itself, either on the feeder or in the darn window pane! ...While fruit bearing plants are seldom found or planted in such locations... So this is risky too, for the hawks.
Interesting topic!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 3:48PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

Right, the key is to use these responsibly... Which a lot of people won't do. I was the first to put up hopper type feeders too close to the watching window - and naturally many people find this a seductive opportunity to watch birds closely without binoculars... 'Till one day a kestrel burst into a flock of redpolls feeding, during a big snowstorm, and almost killed itself, either on the feeder or in the darn window pane! ...While fruit bearing plants are seldom found or planted in such locations... So this is risky too, for the hawks.
Interesting topic!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 5:13PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

Vonyon, no ill feelings here :) I enjoy your thoughtful posts, too. I think that the topic of offering supplemental feed is one on which many of us will just have to agree to disagree - what's important is that we recognize the value of native plantings, habitat restoration/preservation and education!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 9:23PM
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roseunhip(z5b QC)

Thank you, jillmcm!
Here is another thing. Once a sharp-shinned had killed a mourning dove in our backyard, and was having its lunch on the spot - it was way subzero Celsius outside. In a matter of minutes a couple of crows showed up, managed to distract the hawk and stole its carcass away!
The American crow may well be native here, but I consider it a pest since when we suburbanites began to let these nest freely in our decorative evergreens and roam about feeding in garbage put away in mere bags. It became a pest because all those development and vegetation openings make it too easy for it to spot the non-cavity nesting birds (most all of which happening to be native) in their whereabouts, the clutchings and fledglings of which it predates a lot here, as well as to harass/bully small hawks that may hunt near our dwellings. I often see crows making watching rounds as soon as a starling gives a hawk alert.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 11:10AM
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Elly_NJ(NJ z6)

However, in such situations (when a native animal's population expolds), they are usually more prone to disease, which culls the population. Crows are very susceptible to West Nile, and in many places crow populations have been decimated by that disease.

Crows have been harrassing hawks for millions of years. The sharp-shins have succeeded inspite of crows. It is pesticides and the destruction of their forests that have hurt sharp-shins, not crows.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 3:38PM
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All interesting points. I don't have a huge problem with crows here, but I have heard of the trash problem in housing developments. I have seen them harassing hawks, but never what Rose is reporting. My guess is that the hawks get as many of the crow nestlings as the hawks get of their meals. Animals are opportunists when it comes to a meal. If they get a meal once in a spot, you can bet they return for another. I suppose space aliens may notice this about us when they see us continually returning to the supermarket!! ;o)

I do wholeheartedly agree about planting natives. I just wish all the people who immediately go to Wild Birds Unlimited to spends tons of $ on fancy bird feeders would consider a natural alternative. I won't say that I never hang a feeder or feed artificially, I just do less and less of it. I find that birds eating in a shrub or tree is a more natural thing to observe and far more interesting. The native landscaping has many benefits, not to mention it is basically carefree!!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 7:00PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

I like to think that for at least some people, there's a synergy involved - they start by feeding the birds, and then want to learn more about what they can do to help their "feathered friends" in the long run. That leads them to offering water and shelter - which can lead to native plants.

Programs like the NWF's Backyard Habitat model help too. The NWF has a lot of partnerships with bird feeding stores and now with a native plant distributor (there's a thread on it on the Native Plants forum). The thing that I find strange is how people will often plant a hummingbird or butterfly garden, but seldom think of a songbird garden. Is it because it would involve a lot of shrubs, maybe? Or is it an idea waiting to be marketed? :)

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 7:10PM
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Jill, good point. I guess that you can't attract butterflies as easily to a feeder. You have to work a little harder for them. I think you are right. Anything is a step toward education and then that is the right direction.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2005 at 7:34PM
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I have to get in here. I have been watching this forum for a couple years now but I feel confident that bird feeding means that there are millions of birds who have a chance they wouldn't otherwise have.
Up here that is a good thing because the birds up here (northern Alberta) are loosing thousands of acres per year to oilsands developement. Our bird club is only now about to make a small protest at the fast rate of developement. Not that we will have any impact on the developement.

I have been feeding now for about 10 years. I would be happy if I felt some of the birds I fed were actually taken by predator birds. They have such a hard time and there are not very many of them. I did have a goshawk at one of my feeders once but I don't think he got any thing.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2005 at 7:16PM
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naturewatcher(TX gulf coast)

I had a Cooper's hawk in my yard last winter. It sat in my holly bushes and waited to ambush an unsuspecting birdie looking for holly berries/a place of cover. Pretty smart hawk.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2005 at 7:19PM
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fireflyintexas(z8 TX)

I have a couple of hawks that fly through regularly....we live on a lake and have songbirds, hawks, used to see foxes until more construction in the area happened.
And skunks and opposums and snakes, along with wild and domestic ducks, egrets, etc. After living here 3 years I have yet to see the hawks catch songbirds. But, I continually see them swoop down into our grass, only to fly off with what looks to be young snakes or long worms (my bet is on young snakes)....and that's fine by me.
Does anyone know if hawks cultivate a taste for a certain meal, like snakes, or field mice, birds?
Great discussion.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2005 at 10:16PM
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garden4wildlife(z8 GA)

Has anybody else observed redtails sitting on guard rails or small trees along the sides of busy roads that are near areas with a lot of wildlife? I've seen more and more redtails that will spend all day, it seems, watching busy roads near forested areas. My guess is they're waiting for small animals to be injured on the road. I've only ever seen one of them leave its perch though. It was sitting in a small dead tree right on the shoulder of the road, and it swooped down RIGHT in front of the car ahead of me. The car slammed on brakes, so of course I had to, also, and after a second or two delay, I saw the hawk slowly flapping back up with something small and furry in its talons. Pretty neat, actually - I love watching hawks flying and especially when they dive. It's fascinating how they adjust every individual tail feather and how they can change so suddenly from flying with head forward and body level to head up and talons extended in front of it in midair.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 4:48PM
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I see redtails more often along the highways in our area than I see them anywhere else. I did not think they ate dead prey, but then I am not sure.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 7:39PM
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garden4wildlife(z8 GA)

I have no idea if they would eat fresh road kill, but surely redtails would be open to picking off injured small animals, wouldn't they?

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 8:34PM
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My limited understanding of animals that prefer live prey is that they are only attracted to the prey if it is moving, so my guess is that they would certainly eat injured animals as long as they are moving. Of course, that is my limited knowledge of the subject.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 10:02PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

We just had a thread about redtails and carrion over on the birding forum - I did a little research and was surprised to find that redtails (and other raptors) will eat fresh carrion. I do wonder how much of that is returning to a kill that they were flushed off of, but it apparently does happen.

I would guess that the redtails are hunting those verges because the grass is mowed and small rodents are easier to see. Same reason you see them under power lines where the brush is periodically cut back.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2005 at 11:10PM
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htown(North Houston)

Crows are one of my favorite birds. I heard or read in several places about crows having more vocal capabilities than parrots. It is essential for there to be plants in the landscapes hanging the bounty. I think I have decided to take on the responsibility of feeding the raptors by putting a big pile of bird seed in the most open part of my yard. I have, unfortunately, not seen any raptors chasing birds or squirrels in my yard. I see raptors on occasion, they always induce awe, and there is a large abundance of gray squieril in the area. My neighbor says he's seen the red tails chase the squireleys often in the pines.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2005 at 2:19AM
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To all posters: especially Jillmcm an vonyon, thank you so much for your input on this subject. I live in a wooded area. I love watching all the wildlife,- turkey, deer, and especially the birds, we have blue bird, martin and wren houses, and several bird baths. I have suet feeders, finch feeders, and a hopper feeders, along with several bird baths. I enjoy the birds so much, and spend many hours watching them. Then last summer a pair of phobees built a nest on a window sill on the second floor of our house. What a delight! They would swoop down and eat tons of insects. When I saw a hawk in a tree next to our house eyeing the baby phobees, it was too much, I went over the edge. I was obsessed with how to keep them out of our yard. All of the posts on this forum have been so helpful to putting things in balance. I am going to rethink my pattern of feeding the birds. Although the Phobees don't eat at bird feeders,they do use the bird baths, and the mere fact that there is a concentration of birds, attracted the hawks. By the way, the hawks nested in the woods next to us, and I heard the baby hawk calling after it's mother for food and say them hunting together, so I know they have to eat too. Thank you, again!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 4:58PM
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Phoebee: You are entirely welcome. I can imagine how protective you must have felt about the baby birds. It is not easy to watch nature in action. I have bluebirds nesting here and tree swallows, and I definitely rethought birdfeeders when I started observing them. It is a evolution of thought that I have been through. I really appreciate the time that everyone takes to post these kind of debates and to keep them respectful so that people do have a chance to form their own opinions. I know that is how I have developed my thinking and opinions and how I have been motivated to seek out more information.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2005 at 5:35PM
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Here some really very important points about the artificial feeding, Thanks for sharing this kind of information.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2013 at 4:26AM
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Nice views.Thanks for sharing valuable information.

    Bookmark   August 29, 2013 at 11:17AM
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