“Forgo the Feeder” Campaign

This Summer Let’s Forgo Feeders to Help Save Our Birds and Combat Rats!

Rodent stealing food

SAW is asking Arlingtonians to remove their bird feeders this summer and keep them down through at least November 15th to protect our birds in order to reduce the town’s rat activity. Going forward, we’d like folks to take down feeders beginning in mid-April through mid-November. Here’s why:

We all love birds, right? And what better way to support our local songbirds and enjoy nature than by leaving up some bird feeders in our yards? It seems like a win-win: we get to see some pretty birds and the birds get a free meal.

But unfortunately, the reality is bird feeders can cause a lot of problems, including for the birds they are meant to nourish and sustain. Bird feeders have been linked to the spread of certain diseases among songbirds like House Finch Eye Disease, salmonella, and avian pox; seed can spoil or mold and feeders can develop harmful bacteria (both are much more likely to happen in warmer weather seasons) that also are dangerous for birds to consume; predators, including outdoor cats, can stalk the feeders and pick off birds, even sensitive and endangered migratory songbirds; and feeders can increase competition between songbirds where more aggressive species dominate–including invasive species like House sparrows and European starlings (and then unfortunately some people sometimes inhumanely poison or kill these birds for being undesirable feeder visitors even as they lured them there with the seed). Most of all, bird feeders are a proven attractant for rats and are a prominent contributor to Arlington’s rat problem!

House finch couple nesting in tree in SAW founder Laura Kiesel’s backyard. No feeders present.

Studies have shown that homes that have bird feeders on the property are significantly more likely to have active rat burrows nearby than ones that do not. Even if you do not put down rat poison to deal with the rats that come to your yard attracted by your feeder, your neighbors often do. SAW regularly fields complaints from concerned Arlington residents who have one neighbor with feeders and another using rat poison to deal with the rodents the feeders attract. That rat poison, in turn, is killing off our birds of prey in Arlington, including our owls, hawks, and even our bald eagles, not to mention our foxes, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, and even some of our companion animals. So actually, we can better support our birds and our larger local ecosystem by taking down the feeders for the warm weather seasons and instead using other alternatives to attract beautiful birds to our yards, including:

  • Bird baths (make sure to regularly clean/replace water).
  • Plants and shrubs like wild bergamot and red columbine that have colorful, tubular flowers that will attract hummingbirds and butterflies! Trumpet Honeysuckle, Cardinal Flower, Spotted Impatiens, Sunflowers, native azaleas, and rhododendrons also appeal to birds. Too late in the planting season for these? Try buying some outdoor potted plants!
  • Shade! Birds are attracted to trees and shrubs to relax and nest in.
  • Songbird nest boxes (please consider predator- and Sparrow/Starling-proofing these boxes).
Carolina Wren in SAW founder Laura Kiesel’s backyard. No feeders present.

Some folks may wonder why SAW is asking for feeders to be taken down from mid-fall through early spring. It’s for a few reasons. It does benefit native birds that are year-round residents in our state to have some supplemental food sources in winter when their natural foods are more scarce, especially during particularly frigid and snowy winters (like the infamous winter of 2015). By contrast, during the warmer weather seasons there is an abundance of natural foods for birds–from insects to seeds and berries–that they can eat without the increased risks of disease contagion, food poisoning, or predation that they face with feeders. Also seed is less likely to spoil or mold quickly in winter as it does in warmer weather and there are less birds competing for feeders as most migratory species are gone for the season so disease transmission is less likely. Some relatively newer resident species to our state, like Northern Cardinals, do rely to some extent on bird feeders during colder winters.

Northern Cardinal in SAW founder Kiesel’s backyard. No feeders present. Photo credit Laura Kiesel
Northern Mockingbird in backyard with no feeder. Photo credit Laura Kiesel.

The main problem is rats are more active in summer and tend to have more babies during warmer weather seasons. As such, feeders are more likely to lure rats during these times of year. However, with global warming leading to milder winters, it’s not a bad idea to consider keeping your feeders down year-round and only putting them up during bad cold snaps or a spate of harsh snowstorms or icy weather. Whether you choose to put bird feeders up only in winter or year-round there are still some critical rules of thumb that can help discourage rodents from making a home on your property:

  • Always take your birds feeders inside overnight. Set a timer or calendar reminder so it becomes part of your daily routine. Rats are more active in evening, so depriving them of this food source when they are most likely to be utilizing it can make a big difference.
  • Use rodent-resistant feeders like glass or metal (which rats can’t chew through) rather than plastic and that have features to discourage rodents (like squirrels) from using them like this one.
  • Use packed rather than loose seed less prone to spillage. Use a feeder with a “catch” under it that catches seed rather than letting it fall to the ground.
  • Pick or clean up spilled seed from your yard regularly.
  • Remove other rodent attractants from your yard such as open compost piles (and keep compost inside/refrigerated if possible till pick up/drop off times or invest in a rat-proof metal compost bin if keeping outside), ivy, dropped fruit or berries, pet food and pet waste, and clean grills. Only take your trash out to outside barrels and dumpsters either the evening before or (preferably) morning of municipal trash pick-up. Rinse recyclables thoroughly of all food debris before bringing to outside receptacles.
  • If you notice a rat or signs of rats on your property, or hear of rat activity on your block, regardless of the time of year, immediately remove your feeders for at least 3-4 weeks from the last sighting or sign of rats before putting them back up again.

Together we can reduce both the number of rats in Arlington and the amount of rat poison being used that is devastating our local wildlife populations and help save the lives of our precious birds of prey and other animals!

Please enjoy these pictures of the frequent visitors to Laura Kiesel’s yard despite her and her nearby neighbors on her block not having any bird feeders!

White-breasted nuthatch in SAW founder Laura Kiesel’s front yard, no feeder present.