Bird Feeders and Avian Flu

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by Deb Lebow Aal

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and many others are recommending taking down bird feeders and baths because of the appearance of avian flu in wild birds. On April 10, 2022, Wyoming Game and Fish Department received results of a Blackbilled Magpie that tests positive for HPAI H5N1 (avian flu). Multiple other birds were found dead and tested positive for avian flu.

I don’t think you should freak out. I think it’s important to read what Colorado Parks and Wildlife has put out on this issue in their fact sheet.

Wild birds will be able to feed themselves with natural food sources at this time of year. This seems like a good time to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of bird feeders in general. I know, we love seeing birds in our backyards – that’s a large part of why we are native plant gardeners – to help birds and other wildlife survive. And I know when my birdfeeders are full, I have a lot more birds in my backyard. It’s super easy food. But there are many downsides to backyard birdfeeders.

They are messy (even with the bird seed that’s not supposed to be messy!). They attract unwanted critters – I always have more squirrels and mice in my backyard when the feeders are up. If you put them near windows, you are inviting accidental bird contusions. Definitely not good for the birds.

There are some who say that birdfeeders alter migratory behavior. There are some who say they are the worst thing you can do for birds (yes, I’ve personally heard that) – because the bird population increases too much with the ready food supply, only to crash if you are not diligent in filling those feeders. So, you are artificially altering population numbers. And some say it’s just not natural. The better way is to plant plants that the birds can use as food, shelter and nesting. And, we’ve all heard that what’s important for baby birds are insects, not seed. 

These are all perhaps valid concerns. Audubon International, however, still promotes birdfeeders as a wonderful way to attract birds to your landscape (see their fact sheet).

You’ll have to decide what you think is right, but perhaps for now, to be on the safe side, don’t fill them till this avian flu is no longer a threat. 

And, for goodness sake, if you decide to keep birdfeeders, clean them regularly!

Western tanager at rest - bird friendly yards provide natural food and habitat.

Western tanager at rest – bird friendly yards provide natural food and habitat throughout the seasons. Photo courtesy of Colorado Native Plant Society.

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