can i start feeding birds again

Many people are concerned about the 2022-2023 outbreak of avian influenza, or bird flu, that is affecting domestic poultry, waterfowl, raptors, and some shorebirds in the U.S. and Canada. Because the current strain (H5N1) causes heavy losses to poultry, it is referred to as highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. Note that transmission of avian influenza from birds to humans is very rare. To date, one person in the U.S. has tested positive for avian influenza and developed mild symptoms, in Colorado in April 2022.

This particular strain of avian influenza virus affects a wide variety of wild birds, including raptors such as Red-tailed Hawks, owls, crows, vultures, and waterfowl such as Canada Geese and Mallards (see details below). The virus is shed in the saliva, mucus, and feces of infected birds and is transmitted to other birds via ingestion or inhalation. There have been reports of mammals, such as red foxes, skunks, bobcats, fishers, and bears, also infected with avian influenza, likely from eating infected birds.

Because of widespread mortalities in some types of wild birds, there has been confusion about whether people should take down their feeders to stop the spread of this disease among wild birds. In April 2022 and March 2023, we checked in with Dr. Julianna Lenoch, who directs the USDA APHIS National Wildlife Disease Program, and we’ve compiled the following summaries of key points regarding HPAI, especially among songbirds and other feeder visitors.

Should I feed birds year-round?

Its not necessary. When birds need energy the most, such as during temperature extremes, migration, and in late winter or early spring when natural seed sources are exhausted, bird feeding is most beneficial.

Most birds don’t need your help in the summer. Many birds concentrate on eating insects while they are nesting and raising their young, so feeding is not as important. Avoid filling feeders during the summer as it is crucial for young birds to learn where to find naturally occurring food.

Two exceptions to this rule are hummingbirds and goldfinches. Your goldfinches, who nest later than other birds, can receive nyjer seed until thistles go to seed, and you can provide nectar in feeders for your summer hummers to help fuel their high metabolism.

Why are different feeders placed at different levels?

While many birds can feed at multiple levels, certain species have specific requirements.

  • Ground level: mourning doves, sparrows, towhees and juncos
  • Table level: cardinals, finches and jays
  • Hanging feeders: titmice, goldfinches and chickadees
  • Tree trunks: woodpeckers, nuthatches and wrens

How do I keep birds from colliding with windows?

Birds may become confused by windows that reflect the sky and surrounding trees or are extremely transparent, leading them to perceive a clear flight path instead of an obstruction.

Place feeders either more than 30 feet away from a window or closer than 3 feet to avoid collisions. A feeder three feet or less from a window keeps a bird from gaining enough momentum for a deadly collision, while one thirty feet or more away from a window offers protection from perplexing reflections.

Altering the appearance of your window helps, too. Hang streamers or use soap to create a scene outside the window. Additionally, you can space four inches apart static-cling decals that prevent bird strikes; some of these decals even reflect ultraviolet light that humans cannot see but that birds can see. If crashes persist, cover your windows with thin garden netting made of plastic to increase the odds that a bird making a wrong turn will survive. Make your backyard a safe place for wildlife.

Regardless of the size of your outdoor area, you can make it a refuge for nearby wildlife. You can change things in your own backyard by meeting basic needs like food, water, and shelter.

FAQ

Is it OK to put bird feeders back up?

If backyard chickens or other captive birds such as ducks, geese, pigeons, doves and parrots are present in the area, it’s strongly recommended not to have bird feeders and bird baths, and to exclude wild birds from accessing chicken feed and water.

What happens if you suddenly stop feeding birds?

It doesn’t necessarily decrease their ability to find food. But if you have been feeding them and you suddenly stop doing so in the middle of a hard season like winter, you will stress some of them, and they might not be able to find a new source of food before they die.

Is it OK to feed birds all year round?

Some people prefer not to feed birds in the spring and summer when there is abundant food. However, leaving your feeders up year-round is not a problem as long as you keep a few things in mind: If bears live near you, you should not keep feeders up during the warmer months.

What happens when you start feeding birds?

Feeding can change bird behavior. Cardinals and Carolina wrens have extended their range north, partly as a result of feeders, research suggests. Some normally migratory hawks opt to stay put because birds at feeders provide enough prey.