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Q: I’ve been wondering if feeding birds is bad for them. It’s not really natural.
A: I don’t think it causes any harm to birds to feed them seeds and suet, as long as feeders are kept clean and the seed is fresh. Some people worry that feeders create dependency in birds, but studies have shown this doesn’t happen. Birds get most of their nutrition from natural sources and visit our feeders for only part of their daily caloric total. It’s often said that we feed birds to please ourselves: Feeders bring birds in so we can view them from our windows. However, dirty feeders and spoiled seed do harm birds, and can lead to their death, so feeder hygiene is extremely important.
A taste for oranges
Q: Red-bellied woodpeckers have been showing up at my feeders for the past few years, and I was surprised to see them gorging themselves on the oranges I put out for orioles. A male will even fill his bill with a large batch of orange stuff and carry it off, I presume to the female on the nest. The other woodpeckers ignore the oranges, though.
A: Thanks for sending in your fascinating observations of the eating habits of your red-bellied woodpeckers. This really is not all that surprising, since in the wild they feed on fruit and berries (as well as insects and nuts). Red-bellieds are known to visit orchards to peck into oranges, grapefruit and even mangos, so this fruit-eating behavior isn’t unusual in this species.
St. Paul resident Val Cunningham, who leads bird hikes for the St. Paul Audubon Society and writes about nature for local, regional and national newspapers and magazines, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.