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Wild Bird Seed

Humans have a long history of feeding birds. As early as 1500 BC Hindus provided birds (as well as dogs, insects, “wandering outcasts” and “beings of invisible worlds”) with rice cakes.  In 1825 one of the first bird feeders was constructed out of a modified cattle trough.  Bird feeding grew in popularity in the 1900’s and by 2019 roughly 60 million people in the U.S. were feeding birds, spending more than $4 billion annually on bird food. Bird feeding has become such a common practice that many people may wonder how seed-eating birds survived long, cold winters before humans fed them.

In fact, birds do very well without a helping hand from humans. A large number of winter bird species in the Northeast, especially sparrows and finches, are seedeaters (granivorous) and there are multiple wild sources of food for these birds, many found along roadsides and in fields.  These plants, called weeds by some, are known for the copious amounts of seeds they produce.  Ragweed, Pigweed, Bindweed, Thistle and Smartweed are some of the plants that are popular with seed-eating birds.  Some of the more familiar flowering plants such as Sulphur (or Rough-fruited) Cinquefoil, Mullein, St. John’s Wort, Black-eyed Susan, Evening Primrose, Queen Anne’s Lace, Yarrow and Goldenrod also feed a host of birds with their bounteous seed crops.

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11 responses

  1. Mary Waugh

    This posting put a smile on my face. I’ve always thought that nature was in control, not humans! As always thanks for the thoughtful and entertaining blogs Mary

    March 27, 2020 at 7:29 am

  2. Alice

    It adds a lot of fun to the day, to feed birds…they come so close and are so used to me being in the house or outside watching them. I leave all wildflowers, especially goldenrod untrimmed, so the feathered friends can enjoy the seeds. Hummingbirds will be here in almost a month and will bring 4 1/2 months of pleasure to the yard.

    March 27, 2020 at 7:51 am

  3. Louise

    I would like to observe more birds eating the plentiful seeds that you pictured! Perhaps going to our feeders is like going out to a restaurant (I usually do not anthropomorphize bu the image came to mind !).

    March 27, 2020 at 8:22 am

  4. Kathy deGraaf

    Yay for this! We leave a portion of our little property to nature in order for the “weeds” to do their thing, and I love to see what grows and who comes to visit it. We also keep honeybees who visit the wildflowers for nectar and pollen, in addition to the wild birds and the native pollinators and other various creatures. This area doesn’t look elegant to the suburban eye — most folks would mow it all down and make a grass desert out of it — but it’s chock full of life throughout the seasons. Bonus: it’s less work for us than mowing everything!

    March 27, 2020 at 9:16 am

  5. rudbeckiahirta

    Where many of us live there are a lot of these wild seed “feeders”. However, these plants are also considered “weeds” by many and are removed. Agriculture and expanding suburbia remove many of these sources of seeds, either through herbicides or fall mowing. Nature was a bounty for birds but we have severely disturbed that source of sustenance, shelter, and, as spring approaches, the caterpillars which are the primary food for baby birds until they fledge. Plant natives and let nature be her messy self in her supreme order of things.
    I was both thrilled and filled with sadness over your story of such a magnificent “friend” yesterday. Apparently, from all the responses, so were many others. Thank you for sharing your sensitive observations and clarifying explanations. I periodically send my grandchildren another of your sense-opening books.

    March 27, 2020 at 9:27 am

  6. Winifred

    A word of caution about mullein in case people are thinking of planting it: It is a non-native invasive that was imported (late 1700’s early 1800’s??) because its seeds can be used to poison fish in order to catch them. It produces millions of seeds and they remain viable in some cases for 100 years. This is per an old piece of information from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service information on how to control its spread.

    March 27, 2020 at 9:38 am

  7. kathiefive

    The birds are feeding our spirits. Maybe at times like this that is more important than our feeding their bellies.

    March 27, 2020 at 10:29 am

  8. Ed Stockman

    I’m concerned about the corn and soybeans I find in some bird seed brands. Almost all corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered meaning they not only contains possible toxins and unknown proteins but glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) residues. I don’t eat foods with GMO ingredients. Why would I want to feed GMO seeds to my birds. Please don’t feed seed mixtures to the birds with corn or soy components.

    March 27, 2020 at 12:15 pm

  9. Susan Greenberg

    Mary,A brief walk today revealed many poison ivy plants with berries.  Guess even the 1500 BC Hindus knew not to use them to attract birds. Keep well,Dean and Susan

    March 27, 2020 at 4:32 pm

  10. Maria Van Dusen

    As always your post is interesting and informative.
    I am trying to find an old post about when goldfinches change their color to more gold.
    Can you direct me . Thanks.

    March 29, 2020 at 6:52 pm

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