I have been appalled to read recommendations not only to feed birds seed at a repurposed milk carton bird feeder, but to paint the entire container brown with acrylic paint.
Why? Shouldn’t we recycle? Don’t we care about birds?
If the instructions include to cover the container with craft glue and decorate with sticks and twigs, why would it “need” to be painted? Because acrylic paints, like most nail polishes, even if sometimes touted as non-toxic, will eventually fail, and neither humans nor birds need flecks of acrylic in their food. And if we’re to completely cover it with twigs, there is no point in painting it with anything, regardless of color.
Seed feeders do not take into consideration the nutrition birds get from insects, worms, and berries. Putting out seed does not encourage children to learn what each species of bird eats as the seasons change. It is a simplistic action which encourages the birds to become dependent on humans and confuses them if we go on vacation or forget.
Feeders are often hung from a tree branch with sturdy string, without concern for what kind of shield will prevent squirrels from coasting down the string and right into the feeder. There is also seldom a mention of cleaning up spilled seed, an action vital to deterring rats, opossum, and other pests that are drawn to these easy meals.
Good Earth stewards know that if we plant and maintain a variety of native plants, we and our kids will have a better chance of seeing a variety of native birds, butterflies, and other insects that belong here. We now know, for example, that planting buckthorn is a mistake because it leafs out sooner in the spring and has stiffer stems than native hawthorn. Both of these apparently good attributes of buckthorn in fact encourage birds to build their nests sooner and lower down, which in turn makes their nestlings easy prey for marauding cats and other predators.
There are more valuable ways to watch over birds that don’t involve the pitfalls detailed above. Keeping one’s cats indoors/under control and reducing disorienting building lights are primary. Know your USDA Zone, select plants adapted for your area and conditions, and garden accordingly.