Attracting birds into your garden
What do birds do for my garden?
Pollinate plants and trees
Insect control (flycatchers and other passerines)
Rodent control (owls and hawks)
Personal enjoyment - and it’s great education for our children
Should I feed the birds?
There are pros and cons regarding feeding wild birds. Here are some of the arguments against feeding, and ours in favour of feeding, with consideration for the ‘Belize perspective’.
A high concentration of perching birds at a food supply increases the risk of disease and sickness?
This is possible: Birds often feed in flocks in the wild, although admittedly they don’t tend to walk in their natural food. Set up your table so that birds are not able to walk on the food (a series of stepped shelves, hanging feeders, perches)
Always practice good hygiene with your feeder
Feeding tables attract the weak and sick, increasing the potential for the spread of disease?
This is true in part as all animals and birds are opportunists, and weak birds will go for the easiest meal. However, the image of a table full of crippled weaklings is unrealistic, especially in Belize with its rich predatory species.
If a bird is debilitated beyond recovery, they will soon get picked off by a predator and is unlikely to be around for long.
Feeding creates an unnatural dependency on humans?
There is an argument that birds that have become dependent on your supply will perish if you suddenly stop providing. This does not apply in Belize with our abundance of natural foods. Most trees do not seed, fruit or flower continually. Birds have a territory and are used to travelling to find food. If your artificial ‘tree’ suddenly stops fruiting, they’ll move on.
Populations can be artificially inflated by unnatural feeding?
Possibly. And is that a bad thing? We believe that giving nature a helping hand is perfectly acceptable in a world where many are intent on destroying nature at every given opportunity.
A concentration of prey species at a feeder will attract a concentration of predator species?
This is also unlikely. It’s a bird’s job to avoid and evade predators. If there’s a hawk around and they feel vulnerable, they will stop coming to the table. Once they stop coming, the hawk will probably move on.
People generally feed birds the wrong things, causing long-term health issues?
Absolutely true, and probably the biggest argument against feeding tables. However, in Belize we are blessed with copious fruits all around us. As long as we are sensible with what we feed them, all we are doing is moving the food closer to us so that we can observe the birds eating it.
Many of Belize’s birds are migrants: If they think there is still a good food supply, it may affect their migration strategy?
There is absolutely no proof that this has ever happened. Migration triggers are linked not only to food supply, but also hormones and the weather. The natural instinct to migrate cannot be overridden by your smorgasbord of papaya and banana, any more than if it were a natural banana plant, and often this extra boost of easy food can help to get them through a tough migration. So if you live in Corozal, for example, you could be giving these birds a real helping hand.
Feeders with excess and dropped food attract rats?
Possibly. Although with Belize’s high concentration of Wish-Willie iguanas, it’s unlikely the rats will get there first. And if they do, then we always have our barn owls!
What to put on your bird table
Fresh fruits, especially soft fruits like papaya, banana, plums, sapodilla, craboo,
Seeds: parakeet seed and sunflower seeds (avaiable from Reimers)
Protein: small dog kibble and parrot maintenance (Reimers) – always supply a nearby water-source with these. Also peanuts – but make sure they are not salted in any way.
For a more natural approach, you can hang corn on the cob, orange, papaya or banana or a half coconut
Experiment with various natural foods, but provide several areas, heights and methods of feeding to suit every species
How to naturally attract the birds to your garden
The very best way is with natural food-source plants. Here are a few suggestions, most of which work even in small gardens:
Papaya, Banana, plantain, guava, okra, mango, kinep, craboo, citrus, hibiscus, gumbo limbo, trumpet trees, cashew, cocoplum, sapodilla, molly apple, wax apple, governor plum, wild grape
Heliconias, gingers, hibiscus and, jasmines other low-growing flowering bushes attract hummingbirds for food and for nest sites, not to mention being attractive plants.
Leaving a small area of natural grasses can attract seed-eaters
Add nesting boxes here and there to encourage them to stay around
With perseverance you can attract a loyal population of birds that will bring back their young for generations
If you don’t want the bother of feeding anything then just provide water, especially in the dry season. It is amazing how many birds and other creatures will visit to drink or bathe. You don’t need a fancy concrete bath, you can use any shallow containers directly on the ground or secured to the top of tree stumps; cut the bottom from a Clorox bottle and attach it to a tree; or just dig a shallow depression and line it with a strong garbage bag and rocks. The important thing is to renew the water daily and keep the container clean. Dirty water will cause sickness.
Keep the feeding areas clean and change food daily
Provide only natural, local foods: Do not use processed ‘human food’ like bread, cake, cookies or chips
Provide several areas for feeding to avoid crowding and out-competing
Provide fresh, clean water
Locate the table at least 30 feet from windows to avoid bird strikes
Provide plenty of natural plants for coverage or the birds feel too exposed to visit
Provide several locations and heights for all species
Do NOT encourage birds into your garden if you have cats, unless you keep them indoors
Birds Without Borders
Landowner Manual for Belize