May 25, 2020
by Dr. Michael Trapani
“I don't feed the birds because they need me; I feed the birds because I need them.” ― Kathi Hutton
Those who care deeply for pets often hold a deep fascination with the natural world. Many of us are birdwatchers. Who would not be enamored with these ubiquitous, beautiful flying creatures?
Birds are members of the class Aves, an extremely large group of warm-blooded vertebrate animals characterized by feathers, toothless beaked jaws, a rapid metabolic rate, a strong but light skeleton, and which reproduce by laying hard-shelled eggs. Birds are found nearly everywhere in the world and vary in size from the 2 inch bee hummingbird to the 9 foot tall ostrich.
Our enchantment with birds dates back to the origin of homo sapiens. Birds are pictured in pre-historic cave paintings and figure prominently in ancient religious myth and folklore from all parts of the world, where birds are often depicted as messengers of the gods or foretellers of fortune.
An attraction to birds is intrinsic to the human condition. Indeed, the nearness of a bird will catch the eye of anyone, even when the species in question is a plain house sparrow. Recall the ballyhoo created when a small bird chose to alight on the podium used by 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. More beautiful birds, like our local Allen’s Humming-bird, or larger, more majestic species such as osprey or blue heron, are sure to captivate anyone lucky enough to have a clear view and time for observation. At our home, we observe gulls, terns, osprey, oyster catchers, cormorants, pelicans, turkey vultures, turkeys, quail, doves, blue heron, egrets, crows, ravens, pine siskins, goldfinches, house sparrows, blackbirds, and hummingbirds on a near daily basis. This is just a short list of our frequent avian visitors.
Just as sure as fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and there are plenty of other things birds gotta do. In particular, at this time of year, birds gotta nest. Our neighborhood is blessed with a number of large cypress trees, as well as dense hedges of many kinds. All of these plants provide rich material for nest building and shelter for many bird species. Our yard also includes small bird houses where house sparrows have often raised their broods. Be-hind our back fence, there is a line of dense shrubs where hummingbirds and other species nest, year after year. We (ie: "my wife, Barb") maintains several hummingbird feeders and seed stations for siskins and other small birds. We try not to feed excessively, so as to avoid creating unhealthy dependencies, and plant bird-feeding ornamentals so the birds will have a variety of foods and needed nesting materials available. We figure that, since hu-mans have invaded and disrupted the birds’ environment, we need to do them as little harm as possible. Besides, if you want to keep birds in your yard, you have to maintain a bird-friendly place for them to thrive. Pine siskins are favorites of mine because they are so bold and happy to perch near me. Hummers are a hoot, given their constant territorial displays and willingness to use me as an obstacle during their war games. There’s nothing quite like being dive-bombed by a hummingbird!
And so, you may understand my dismay at the sound of chain saws and machine trimmers being used during nesting season. I get it: hedges need trimming and trees do too. Sometimes, trees must be taken down.
But must we do it during nesting season? It’s been a long, dry winter. Those trees could have been removed in the dead of winter, or last fall, or any time before they filled with bird nests. It breaks my heart to see the confusion of the birds as they fly in and out of their dismembered ancestral home.
I’m reminded of the scene in Avatar: The Sky People have come, wielding unfathomable, screaming machines with which to destroy the only home The People know, while their nests and helpless babies are devastated.
So please, think ahead. Trim your trees and do your major pruning before or after nesting season. We need only be thoughtful to preserve a place for our beautiful avian neighbors.
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