Conservation Programs & Activities
To Feed or Not to Feed: Audubon
A lot of people like to feed birds. More than 40% of Americans make it a regular habit. But a nibble of backyard suet or peck at the communal feeder may hold hidden risks for birds, reports a recent study in Ecology Letters.
Daniel Becker, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology, and his team wanted to better understand how the various ways we humans feed wild animals—whether intentional (feeders or tourist hangouts) or not (landfills or loose garbage cans)—affects their risk of infectious disease. So Becker and his team analyzed what was out there—20 published research papers on host-pathogen interactions in human-fed wild populations—finding intentional feeding changed wild animal behavior and diet enough to give parasites and viruses the upper hand.
“Feeders can bring unexpected species together and bring birds together more frequently than normal, creating ideal conditions for parasites and other contaminates,” Becker says. That birds often crowd into tight spaces to get at the tasty morsels also makes it easier for pathogens to leap between birds.
Feeders, they found, have contributed to outbreaks of House Finch Eye Disease (Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis) and virulent strains of the respiratory disease Trichomoniasis. Dependable human-supplied meals can also alter wild animals’ behavior, they found. In one study, Spanish White storks skipped their typical North-African winter migration in favor of sticking around their landfill-loaded breeding grounds. This means sick birds that would normally be subject to “migratory culling,” as Becker delicately puts it—meaning they wouldn’t survive the flight—are allowed the chance of continued life, becoming a constant source of exposure to their peers at the benefit of the pathogen infecting them.
How to Feed the Birds Without Feeding Disease
So should we stop feeding birds? “Absolutely not,” says Becker, “there are plenty of simple things we can do to avoid many of these potential outcomes.” Feeding birds is particularly important in the wake of harsh winters. Migrating species on the east coast are returning to snow-covered soil prompting wildlife groups to ask for the public’s help in feeding.
Stephen Kress, director of Audubon’s Project Puffin, says safe bird feeding includes completely scrubbing out feeders with a 10% non-chlorinated bleach solution at least a few times a year, and certainly between seasons. It also means researching the favorite foods of the species you want to attract, the feeder styles they like best, and where to hang feeders.
“Bird seed mixtures targeted to a wide range of species are the cheapest, but most wasteful, packed with fillers like milo that most birds pick through, resulting in a mess under the feeder,” says Kress. The mess can quickly become a sludgy mixture that can make birds sick, so it should be cleaned up in the winter or raked out when conditions are drier, says Kress. To avoid exposing ground-feeding birds to the goo, he adds, put up a platform that drains well. “To avoid this you can buy specific seeds for specific feeders—for example cracked corn and millet to put in one and then just sunflowers in another,” he says. “This decreases interactions between the species that eat the different seeds, and waste, dramatically.”
So go ahead and feed the birds—but if you do, realize you’re taking on the task of cleaning up after them, too. Find more tips from Kress: Audubon.org/news/11-tips-feeding-backyard-birds.
San Vicente Trail and Open Space Update
By Ken Sexton
As a member of the Trails and Open Space Advisory Committee, we have found significant vandalism including cut gate lock chains, smashed gates and cut fencing to allow access by an array of 4-wheel vehicles. Recommendations to make repairs have been followed. We have identified illegal access points from surrounding roadways and plans have been made by the town to block these. Major access points such as the end of Chukar Road near the old landfill include plans where 10 inch diameter pipes will be installed to block the access area. While repairs are being made, vandalism in the form of cut fencing near gates have been found indicating again, tracks representing a wide range of 4 wheel vehicles from ATV width to much wider– with “off-road” and on-road tire tread marks. This month at the request of the Mayor, after his Meet the Mayor session at the Drifter restaurant, we rode to locations where there are current cut fences, and to Chukar Road.
During the Trails and Open Space committee meetings during the last year, maps of the San Vicente Creek area were reviewed. There are parts of the trail that are on private land and also significant“social” trails that follow the creek that are popular with birders and hikers, also on private land. These maps also showed areas where negotiations for right-of-way access or actual boundary adjustments of private lands for trail use have been made or are in progress.
Discussions have included how to make the San Vicente trail and open area more easily accessible and attractive to both locals and tourists. There are discussions to include trail improvements during planned maintenance work on the Big Ditch by the Army Corps of Engineers, which would make the trail from the Visitor Center to the trail head under the Hwy 90 Bridge, more user friendly to avoid climbing over loose rocks. Lastly there have been discussions about how this trail head appears to be a “hang-out” location by locals. This might be managed by requesting police monitoring.
If you see motorized vehicles on the trails report it to the police by calling Central Dispatch at 388-8840.
Have you seen these birds?
With its erect crest and the male’s shimmering black cloak, the Phainopepla’s name was inspired by the Greek word meaning “shining robe.” Many readers may not know that this species tends to work overtime, with studies indicating the likelihood of breeding twice a year in two distinct habitats.
This long-tailed silky flycatcher can be found perched upright on top of a palo verde or mesquite tree in the Sonoran Desert early in the year from February through April. In May, when the heat at lower elevations begins to intensify and the mistletoe berries there dwindle, the birds move up slope into woodland canyons of Arizona, California, and New Mexico, where they breed again through July.
The male is glossy black except for broad white patches under the wings that are obvious in flight. The female is gray with some wing patches. Both sexes have red eyes, an obvious crest and long slender tail. The bill is short and slender. They can be 6.3 to 7.9 inches long. In recent years, the local movements of this conspicuous bird are believed to be shifting.
This breeding bird of our riparian forests and Silver City’s shade trees has been declining in recent years, and we would like your assistance in documenting its abundance and distribution.
Male Bullock’s Orioles are larger and more colorful with orange and black plumage, a distinctive white wing patch and a black throat and eyeline. The females have more of a dull yellow coloration with gray-brown underparts.
Western Rivers Action Network
The Gila River, New Mexico's last wild river, has been named one of the country’s most endangered by American Rivers. Healthy rivers are essential to our livelihoods and wildlife. Audubon New Mexico is working to improve river health and resiliency. We CAN help.
Help the Birds - Become a FeederWatcher
Every bird observation reported makes a difference. More than 20,000 FeederWatchers contribute their data by reporting the highest number of each species they see at their feeders during periodic two-day counts through early April. It is simple and a great activity for families and school groups.
More FeederWatcher Info . . .
Be bird, butterfly and bee friendly!
It’s easy to not harm swallows and other birds, as well as insect pollinators such as butterflies and bees! More →
Simply avoid using pesticides and harsh cleaning products, like bleach, anywhere outside of your house. Be aware that pesticides include all types of insect control (insecticide), rodent control (rodenticide) and weed control (herbicide) products. Stick to mild biodegradable soaps for outdoor cleaning of lawn furniture, etc. To make your own safe, homemade, insecticides see: treehugger.com/lawn-garden/8-natural-homemade-insecticides.
Report to NestWatch!
Citizen-science data vital for breeding-bird studies
Finding bird nests can help scientists. The free NestWatch project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology collects, analyzes, and distributes data, serving as a warehouse of nesting bird information. Find a nest and report its location, the species using it, number of eggs, and other milestones as the birds incubate, raise, and fledge their young. The NestWatch website and mobile app now accept reports submitted from anywhere in the world, enabling scientists to compare birds across their global breeding range. Register for the project at NestWatch.org and learn how to monitor nests without disturbing the birds.