Here’s how to help birds while your feeders are down
August 7, 2021 – The mysterious condition that has been killing birds seems to have reached Connecticut. As of late July, state veterinary pathologists tested three birds and all three showed symptoms similar to those seen in dead birds from other states.
One of the best things you can do for birds right now is to take down your bird feeder. Or if you’ve already taken it down, leave it down. Hummingbird feeders and bird baths included.
The condition and its cause remains unknown. The symptoms are mainly swollen or cloudy eyes, eyes and crusty discharges from the eyes. Because it might be infectious, the prudent thing to do is to limit the number of places where birds gather close together.
That won’t be a burden for birds because there’s plenty of wild food and water available.
There are other ways to help birds though. Here’s a list of actions we compiled in 2020.
They’re even more relevant now.
Speak up. Speak out. Work in concert with others and with conservation organizations like Connecticut Audubon that can amplify your voice. Writer and climate activist Bill McKibben pointed out recently that if 3 or 4 percent of a population advocates for a cause, it’s often enough to force a change in the system. But if those same 3 or 4 percent take action individually, it’s not enough to make a difference.
Do both, of course, but when Connecticut Audubon or another advocacy organization sends a conservation action alert, speak out!
If you’re on our email list, you’ll get our action alerts. But you can also opt-in to receive alerts via text, here.
Our seven centers also have volunteer opportunities – tasks such as planting and tending native flowers, shrubs, and trees; removing invasive plants; helping with bird banding; monitoring bird populations, etc.
Look here for information about whom to contact at our seven centers.
3. Reverse the climate crisis
The biggest threat to birds is climate change. Birds are already starting to feel the heat right here in Connecticut.
The most effective action is collective but that doesn’t mean we should ignore individual action.
Three quarters of all emissions from Connecticut are from cars and trucks and other forms of transportation, and from buildings, including houses. Drive less and drive slower. Turn the thermostat down in winter and up in summer.
Read this rundown of what Connecticut Audubon and its members are doing on the issue.
4. Support open space preservation
The bottom line for birds is habitat. They need suitable places to nest, spend the winter, and rest and feed during migration.
It’s critical to support the buying, preserving, and managing open space, including forest land, on the state and local level.
Strategic acquisition can improve Connecticut’s big forest tracts. A recent study by Bird Conservation Research, based in Pomfret, indicates that since 1985 the number of birds in 10,000 acres of forest in Union, Connecticut, has actually increased.
The researchers conclude that large, unbroken forests in southern New England might be serving as refuges for birds whose populations are falling elsewhere.
This underscores that conservation isn’t something that is needed in distant lands. Healthy habitats in your towns and cities make a difference.
In addition, preserving forests and grasslands locks up carbon in plants and trees to keep it out of the atmosphere.
Supporting Connecticut Audubon helps. Your donation will help us manage the 800-acre Croft Preserve, in Goshen, which is a component of a much larger intact forest.
5. Landscape for birds
Manage your property with birds and insects in mind. Plant grasses and flowers that are native to Connecticut and the northeast. Plant native trees and shrubs that produce fruit and berries. Leave parts of your yard – even large parts – unmanicured. If your property is big enough, create a brush pile for animals to take cover in.
Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. If you target one kind of insect, you’re highly likely to kill other kinds as well. That’s bad for the butterflies, bees, wasps, etc., and it’s also bad for the birds who eat insects. Follow the CDC guidelines for tick control.
6. Cut out pesticides
If you apply pesticides to your property to kill insects, you’re killing the food that Connecticut’s birds rely on. And while you might think you’re targeting mosquitoes or ticks, you’re also killing butterflies and bees of all sorts – Connecticut has over 300 species of native bees!
If you must use pesticides, use them carefully and in a limited area (for ticks, follow the CDC guidelines, for example). Or cut out the use of pesticides completely.
7. Keep cats indoors
Outdoor cats kill an estimated 1.3 – 4 billion birds in North America every year (they also kill 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually). It’s a huge, emotionally-charged problem but there’s something you can do: keep your cat indoors and, if you acquire a new cat, train it as an indoor pet.
In a paper published in the journal Nature, three scientists wrote: “Our findings suggest that free-ranging cats cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals. Scientifically sound conservation and policy intervention is needed to reduce this impact.”
8. Shop sustainably
Organic and local agriculture can be better for wildlife – no pesticides are involved and, in Connecticut, small farms are often diversified and compatible with wildlife. But eat what you buy: 30 percent of our food is thrown away.
Cut down on the use of plastic, which relies on petroleum and chemicals. As writer and educator Erica Cirino pointed out when she spoke at our Birdcraft Sanctuary in May, it’s also critical to support legislation to eliminate plastics.
Buy shade-grown coffee, the production of which protects bird habitat. Ask your fish market to sell sustainably caught fish, which benefits the oceans.
9. Make windows safer
The best estimates shows that up to a billion birds a year are killed when they fly into windows, walls, and other structures. In December 2019, New York City passed a law that requires new buildings to meet standards that are expected to greatly reduce bird strikes.
Like many other issues, individuals can take meaningful action. The American Bird Conservancy has evaluated a list of products that reduce bird strikes and published advice for homeowners and for architects.
Your membership enables the Connecticut Audubon Society to carry out the conservation and education work that has the greatest impact locally, right here in Connecticut.