Monday, December 23, 2013

Farm and Garden Report/December 23 - Feeding the birds et al.

After 32 years we have stopped feeding the birds. It would be fine if it were just birds who came. We love the chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches, mourning doves, and woodpeckers. They make for delightful watching. Along with the birds come the chipmunks in the fall, and then the red squirrels. We've accepted them because they really are cute little creatures, even though I'm pretty sure I hear the squirrels running around in the ceilings sometimes. In recent years the deer have been coming to the feeders, and we have loved that. 

Bears are a problem only if the feeders are left up too late in the spring. 

However, the other night we looked out and couldn't believe our eyes when we saw this



Coyotes! We often hear them, but never in all the years we've lived here have we ever seen them. They were happily eating sunflower seeds we had scattered for the ground feeding birds. They stayed a long while that night. A day or two later we had deer visiting the feeders, and two hours later the two coyotes came. Sometimes just one coyote would come. When we saw this was becoming a routine, we began to be worried for Sadie. Yes, she is a big dog, probably outweighing a coyote by 50 pounds, but still, they could team up and go after her. We had begun taking her out on a leash - a leash! We live on 200 acres, and have a large fenced in lawn and field so she doesn't even wear a collar and runs free as she wishes. But our biggest concern was little Piglet, Matt and Margaret's pug who lives just down the road. There are stories of coyotes coming right into a yard and taking a little dog. Their dogs are also used to being free. They never go far from the house, but they are often out without people. 

We have been very concerned, wondering what to do. So last evening I went to the source of all things bird, my state's Audubon Society. I emailed them:
I've been all over the internet asking these questions and have received differing answers. If we stop feeding the birds right now, will they die? Are they dependent upon us for their survival? The birds that come are chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, mourning doves.
You might wonder why I ask. Well, the reason is that we suddenly have two coyotes eating the bird seed. We've had deer around for years, but this is the first time we've ever seen coyotes. Our near neighbors have a small dog, a pug, and we are concerned about the coyotes getting her. We have a dog too, and aren't awfully comfortable letting her out now. We are out in the country on a couple hundred acres of land.
We'd really like to take down the feeders, but don't want to kill the birds.
Any advice is greatly appreciated.
 This morning I was grateful and relieved to read this response:
I am not speaking as one of the experts here, but I can tell you that the conservationists tell me over and over that taking down a bird feeder will not impact the birds in any way. Birds naturally feed in the wild and if someone takes down a feeder, they just go to their sources out in the wild or find a feeder elsewhere. I think you will agree that your safety and the safety of the dogs is of utmost importance. 
So, Tom went out and took down all the feeders. An era has ended. Yes, we will miss seeing them close to the house, but we can still see and hear them in the woods, and the benefits far outweigh the loss. I expect it will take a few days for all the seeds on the ground to be cleaned up, but soon, the coyotes and deer and birds will realize that this particular restaurant has closed forever.

20 comments:

  1. Nan, thank you for this information.
    I am told they are in my area
    but have not seen any yet.
    Worry about little Callie
    and thank you for the information on feeding birds.
    I love watching them and taking images
    but surrounded by over a 100 acres of woods
    I may take them down.
    Also, I have always walked in the woods
    but not since last summer, since I fell in the fall.
    Sure do not need to come across something that might hurt
    this 108 lbs..

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    1. I've read that if you encounter one you are supposed to 'act big and make loud noises.'

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  2. How disappointing for you Nan. We do feed birds for our own amusement. No doubt when there is a lot of snow on the ground it helps birds survive but they are used to fending for themselves. Feeders are like the dessert for birds. We can all get along without dessert. Coyotes are handsome creatures but I have heard story after story about cats not surviving when coyotes come into an area. Better be safe than sorry for sure.

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    1. I love what you said about dessert. We lost two cats to coyotes years and years ago. After that we never let our cats outdoors. It's too scary. Sometimes we hear them at night, but just because we don't doesn't necessarily mean they aren't around.

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  3. Well that is sad, but the Audubon response is certainly reassuring. My parent's live just west of Phoenix and many mornings my dad and his beagle Lily are followed by coyotes just waiting for the (leashed) dog to get too far away from dad. And even though they and their neighbors all have very high walls around their backyards the coyotes get in their yards and one day (before they realized the danger) had Lily cornered. Their neighbors next door actually lost their dog that way.

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    1. That is a horror story. I can't believe it. Just awful. There's a lot of talk about how building has taken over their territory but around here, there is tons of open land. We had moved the feeders to the north pasture this year, and perhaps the coyotes saw that as more their territory than the previous place which was just across the lane with lots of people commotion. We haven't seen them since, and hope we don't. I am so sorry for your folks and their neighbors that they have to deal with this.

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  4. This is so sad. I remember hearing coyotes when I lived in Phoenix, and now there are sightings of them in Central Park. But how sad for your animals and birds, and you will probably never feel secrue about them again.

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    1. Central Park?! I can't believe I read those words. It shows how very adaptable they are, but one wonders just how they got there originally. Did they walk from a wooded suburb into the city until they found the Park? It boggles my mind to think of.
      We will feel secure again, I think and hope. The coyotes shouldn't be back so close to the house without any food offered to them. There is plenty in the woods for them.

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  5. It is always difficult, isn't it, to find a balance to those of our activities which have a direct impact on wildlife. Man-made influence on nature has extended so much in the last few hundred years that we can't just turn back time and pretend it didn't happen. You made a good decision, letting safety concerns outweigh your fondness for watching the birds coming to your feeder.

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    1. Yes, it is. We'll still have the birds in the woods in winter, and in summer there are different ones around.

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  6. Safety first.....
    We live right near the center of town ~ and we have them around, and a few years ago, they DID take my neighbors small dog ~ from just outside the back door, never to be seen again.
    Just a few weeks ago, someone's large dog across town was killed... They are among us for sure.
    Hopefully they will move on.... and back into the woods.
    That aside, I am sending you wishes for a peaceful and lovely Holiday ~ :)))))

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    1. Oh, that's so awful. I feel badly for the neighbors. Such a horror. Scary that a large dog was killed too - I expect it was a pack. It shows they are hungry maybe?? I wonder if something in their diet is lacking.
      Thank you and the same to you.

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  7. Nan here on the coast the coyotes are here but are kept at bay by the mountain lions. Just on our street they've been seen sauntering along and in trees. Lately more than the usual amount of bobcats too. And loads of deer . Its that water here, its been a dry year and they are all after water and have been seen drinking from the birdbaths. Even in non rural areas I've known of at least two small dogs being taken; one by a coyote and one by a hawk. So here we are all hoping for rain soon and plenty of it. Seems to restore the balance of nature. A lovely holiday to you

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    1. I'll never forget the scene with a mountain lion in the book My Friend Flicka. We do have bobcats in some areas up here, and there is talk of mountain lions aka cougars, catamounts around. The authorities deny it but many people have seen them. I never thought of this side effect of drought. I can't believe they were at the birdbaths. Scary about the hawk too.
      And to you!

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  8. It is good to know that there isn't an adverse impact on birds by removing the feeders, Nan. I admire your thoughtful approach to coming to a good plan of action, as well as the prompt reply from the Audubon Society. We sometimes forget what a valuable resource these organizations are. I would be concerned for the dogs as well. While we live on a few acres here, the surrounding areas are very urban - and all have a coyote problem, including the city of Chicago. We see and hear them here often, and even saw two does chasing one a few summers ago when the fawn were first born.

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    1. Absolutely true about the 'valuable resources.' I have had occasion to get in touch with both Fish & Game, and the Extension service and found them wonderfully helpful.
      I cannot believe there are coyotes in Chicago. Did you read Alex' comment about NYC? Astounding.
      And those does!! Nothing like mother love, is there?!

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  9. We've always had coyotes around our place in the country. However, it was a crashing visit by a bear that made our neighbor take down her feeder, and we removed ours because we couldn't afford to feed all the deer who were taking advantage of it. Recently another neighbor's cat disappeared so we assume the coyotes got him. I've seen a couple up fairly close in our back yard; they're very scrawny and hungry looking.

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    1. We lost cats years ago, and since then none of ours ever go outdoors.

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  10. What a thing Nan. I am glad you were able to take the feeders down so that your precious pets are safe ... (I checked this same question when we were in Oregon, only because we wanted to put up feeders while we were there in the summer and fall and take them down as winter approached. I wanted to be sure I wouldn't be leaving the birds to starve when we left.) They told me the same thing they told you. But that wasn't a matter of life and death for pets like yours was. Imagine having coyotes coming right into your yard like that. Why do you think they are doing that suddenly?

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    1. I'm sure it is because of the sunflower seeds scattered on the ground for all the ground feeding birds. No sight of them since, knock on wood.

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