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Common Bird Feeding Myths

Madhushree Kelkar
People who set up bird feeders, do so out of love, and a desire to connect with these beautiful beings. However, there are many bird-feeding myths that we fall for, and these, instead of helping, end up harming the birds. Here, the truth behind some of these myths is revealed.
God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.
- P. D. James
There are many myths which are related to the feeding of birds. Whether you are feeding domestic or wild birds, you must be completely aware of the bird food myths and facts. Here are few common bird feeding myths, which have been debunked.

Myth 1

There is no need to feed birds in summer.
Though there are abundant sources of natural food in summer, many times, birds need to find easy means of food. This is because of the fact that the parent birds also provide for the hungry babies in their nests. This often gets them overworked.
If you provide them bird seed in your bird feeders, it will help them to get the food easily, without much competition. No matter which season, leave some food outside for them, so that you will be able to help them. This will also make many species of birds return to your backyard year after year.

Myth 2

If you feed birds, they will become dependent on your handouts, and will forget to search for food on their own.
This is not true. Birds source only 25% of food from bird feeders; for the remaining, they depend on natural sources like small insects, buds, sap, spiders, pine nuts, etc. If feeders are not there, birds will not starve. They will resort to utilizing these natural resources to gain food.
However, during the harsh Winters, it is very difficult for them to find food. Hence, it is always better to provide supplementary food through bird feeders. However, rest assured that the birds will not be completely dependent on it.

Myth 3

If birds eat uncooked rice, it will swell in their stomach and explode their bodies.
Many people advocate that feeding uncooked rice to birds can prove to be fatal for them. This is because, rice expands in their stomach, causing it to swell and then explode. Many species of birds thrive on the raw rice in the fields.
However, rice farmers have never reported any sightings of birds exploding because of rice. The only time it may cause a problem is, if you feed leftover rice to the birds without heating it first.

Myth 4

If you put up metal bird feeder perches, they may freeze the bird's feet.
If this was true, ducks and penguins would have stuck to the ice. But you don't see it happening because birds' feet are well protected against the cold. There are no sweat glands on their feet and the area gets very little blood flow, therefore, they are cold and dry in winter. You can, however, hang your bird feeders in dry places, to keep them warm.

Myth 5

Birds do not eat milo seeds.
Contrary to the popular belief that birds do not like milo seeds, doves, sparrows, quails, turkeys, etc., do eat them. Milo seeds are part of many inexpensive birdseeds, as they are used as fillers. However, if you don't have many birds that eat milo seeds in your backyard, it is best to limit the quantity in your bird feeder mix to avoid wastage.

Myth 6

If you feed peanut butter to birds, they will choke on it.
A popular myth is, that feeding peanut butter can prove fatal for birds as it sticks to their bills and chokes them. However, there is no known evidence to corroborate this claim. In fact, it is a rich source of fats and proteins, and mimics the nutrients required, especially by insect-eating birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc.
Birds have non-muscular tongues; also, they do not have much saliva in their mouths. Hence, the chances of peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of their bills, are minimal. You can mix crunchy peanut butter with raisins, cornmeal, cornstarch, wheat oats, bird seed, crackers, etc., to make it less sticky, drier, crumblier, and easier to swallow.

Myth 7

If you feed hummingbirds in fall, it will affect their migrating pattern.
Whether you feed them or not, hummingbirds will migrate in Fall. No amount of bird feeders will make them stop in your backyard and forget about migrating.
The migration journey of hummingbirds will depend on the length of the day, weather, genetic instinctual drives, and external influences. You may keep the feeder outside a little longer for other birds. This will help them survive the long journey, and also give them the much required energy.

Myth 8

It is okay to feed bread to ducks.
This is an absolutely false notion; giving bread to ducks is as good as feeding them junk food. White bread offers no nutritional value, and can be a source of excessive fats for the ducks. This will make them too heavy and incapable of flying when attacked.
Moreover, it may even pollute the waterways and lead to diseases. Other animals and pests like rats, mice, insects, and predators will also get attracted to the pieces of bread, posing a danger to the ducks. Try feeding them cracked corn, vegetable trimmings, fresh peas or grape halves instead.

Myth 9

Bird feeders do not require cleaning.
This is a misconception that there is no need to clean bird feeders. In fact, bird feeders should be cleaned from time to time. Otherwise, there are chances that you will end up making the birds sick. Due to exposure, bird feeders can become a breeding ground for bacteria and diseases.
Hence, it is advisable to scrape off the old bird seed, and clean it with soap water. Dry it thoroughly before putting it up. If you cannot scrub it regularly, see to it that you clean it at least in fall and spring.

Myth 10

Birds will come, even if the feeders are empty.
One of the misconceptions about birds is that they will visit your backyard, even when the bird feeder is empty. On the contrary, birds will only come if the bird feeders are full, and they have plenty of food to eat. If the feeders are empty, there are chances that the birds will go to other areas where they will easily get food.
If you refill your bird feeder, there are chances that the birds will return to your backyard. It will, however, take some time before the birds get used to making a stop at your backyard for food.

Myth 11

Red-colored food dye should be present in the food to attract hummingbirds.
It is true that hummingbirds get attracted to red color. However, there is plenty of red color in the feeders itself to attract them. Therefore, you do not have to add red-colored food dye to the nectar that you will leave for the hummingbirds. It is not known if the red dye harms the birds or not, but it is advisable that you refrain from using it.
Apart from these, few of the other bird feeding misconceptions are:
  • Seed mix from grocery is not good for birds. (Truth: Using seed mix will attract many birds to your backyard.)
  • Bird seeds never get spoiled. (Truth: If not stored properly, bird seeds will get spoiled.)
  • There are special bird feeders which are squirrel proof. (Truth: It is not possible to have a bird feeder which is completely squirrel proof.)
Bird feeding is a very noble hobby, and now that you know about the common bird feeding myths, you will be able to undertake it without committing mistakes.