We are often asked if forgetting to fill your bird feeders matters to the birds who frequent the feeders at your residence.
This cannot happen at our house; the Border Collies won’t allow it. Feeding the birds at our house requires coordinated teamwork. A minimum of one human and three Border Collies is necessary,
As far as we are able to tell, it is the job of the first Border Collie to see to it that the human who actually fills the feeders goes to the appropriate places in the correct order with the right seed for each feeder. The second Border Collie herds the first to insure that he makes no mistakes herding the human. The third is a general purpose back-up in case of mistake. Mostly though, her job is to herd the second Border Collie; Border Collies seldom make mistakes. All three remind us daily to feed the birds, so we never forget.
Apparently, the job of bird feeding is more complicated than letting the chickens out of their coop each morning. Only one Border Collie is required to oversee that job. And, at the same time, he checks the property to insure that no cats have snuck onto the property during the night. In this way the dogs minimize the risk to the birds of domestic cat attacks, one of the leading causes of song-bird death.
The breeder who sends us our Border Collies is either a Border Collie in disguise or the world’s greatest expert about dogs. As she teaches, “Border Collies know 150 separate commands and they make you perform each perfectly.” She also interprets their behavior and empathizes with them. It must not be easy, she says, to have to live with such dimwitted beings as humans who have to think before they do anything. Always thinking; seldom acting: That’s how dogs see us.
So, for us, it is a hypothetical question of what happens to the local birds if we fail to fill the feeders; as we said, the dogs won’t allow it. But not everyone has a team of dogs to remind them. What happens if you forget?
No one knows for sure, but the answer is probably not much — at least during times of good weather. The birds who frequent your feeders are opportunistic feeders and feed on a wide variety of plants, seeds, and bugs and will survive without your feeders, especially if there are other feeders in the neighborhood. If you forget one day or are gone for awhile, they’ll be fine and will return to your feeders as soon as they notice they are filled again.
That is not always true during times of harsh weather. Mounting evidence indicates that some bird species are not migrating because of the availability of human supplied food during winter and the shoulder seasons of early spring and late autumn. Significant numbers of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, for instance, no longer migrate to Central America, but remain in the Gulf Coast region of the United States during winter. There is no doubt that supplemental food helps non-migratory birds survive winters. And, as we always remind people, providing fresh water is at least as important as the food you put out.
But how you are going to feed your birds without a team of Border Collies is simply beyond our power to imagine.