Here are some of the ways that I help birds all year in ways that are 'bigger' than my birdfeeder.
Rethink your coffee - opt for certified Bird-friendly! I drink coffee every day, and drinking Bird-Friendly coffee means that I can support farmers who protect critical bird habitats in South America every single day.
Certified Bird Friendly is what I consider the gold standard for coffee because they're the world’s only shade-grown, organic coffees certified by third-party inspectors using criteria established by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Bird-Friendly coffees come from farms that use a combination of foliage cover, tree height and biodiversity to provide habitat for birds and other wildlife that is, based on years of research, the healthiest option, only after the entirely undisturbed forest.
I buy my coffee from Birds and Beans in Toronto, Ontario. Their coffee is certified Bird Friendly, Organic and Fairtrade. I love their Peru Norte, Breakfast and Espresso blends. Bonus: their bags are backyard compostable!
Eat grass-fed, Canadian beef. What does beef have to do with birds? Well, the demand for beef is (sadly) growing internationally, and to keep up with demand soya farmers and cattle ranchers are aggressively expanding their herds and clear-cutting forests, then burning what’s left to make way for crops or pastures.
Most often, these forests are in countries with less stringent environmental protection and the most fertile grounds like Brazil, where the Amazon, which is one of the world's lungs and home of millions of wild species, like birds, is being lost to cattle ranching and soya production. It's dangerous for all of us - we're losing forests that can absorb and sequester carbon, and engaging in practices that are responsible for even greater emissions.
Beyond limiting consumption of beef, I recommend opting for grass-fed, Canadian beef and if you can, finding out if farmers use rotational grazing. When a cow is grass-fed, from Canada, this means we're staying away from herds who grazed on newly deforested lands, we're eating cows that weren't only fed soya or grain, and, if the farm uses rotational-grazing, supporting regenerative practices, which mean that instead of depleting the soil, it regenerates it.
Eat organic food as much as possible. When food is Certified Organic it means that pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMOs weren't used on the seeds that were sown or on the plants that grew. Eating organic food helps birds (and all wildlife!) because pesticides and synthetic fertilizers kill or harm wildlife through the direct application, by poisoning the species directly, and indirectly, by means such as pesticide drift, secondary poisoning, runoff into local water bodies, and groundwater contamination.
Many birds eat bugs, fruits, seeds, and fish - all four of which face direct application of pesticides, or indirect application. Putting it (very) simply, increasing our consumption of organic food will help bird populations by decreasing their exposure to chemicals that kill them.
Looking beyond birds, there is also an incentive to eat organic for our own health. Albeit being much larger than birds, fish and bugs, I can't imagine that eating produce grown with chemicals that kill all life forms on it is healthy over a lifetime.
Plant native species in your garden. Planting native plants mean more choices of food and shelter for native birds and other wildlife. To survive, native birds need native plants and the insects that have co-evolved with them. In Canada, we have four seasons and see extreme cold and extreme heat - so do all the wild species that live here!
To provide adequate food for birds, it is recommended to plant a variety of native seed and berry-producing plants and to choose species that produce food at different times of the year. Many birds also eat insects, so planting flowers that attract insects will provide another source of food for birds.
Use the Canadian Wildlife Federation's Native Plant Encyclopedia to find out what is native to your area.
Prevent window collisions. Collisions with windows in residential and commercial buildings kill millions of birds each year, and the majority occur in our homes! Placing bird feeders and birdbaths at a safe distance from windows helps, about half a meter or closer will prevent birds from gaining much speed before colliding with the window, moving indoor plants away from windows and turning off unecessary lights at night also help.
Blinds, curtains and properly installed decals can prevent bird collisions, but the most effective way to stop birds from flying into our windows is to make the entire window look like a barrier. Here are some of the more effective ways to create bird-safe windows from FLAP Canada.
If you're a cat owner, keep your cat indoors! Cats are the most significant human-related bird mortality factor in Canada (they kill more birds than windows!). Cats kill millions of birds a year in Canada, and, keeping them indoors will not only save the lives of birds and wildlife species, but it's also safer for domestic cats to be indoors too.
Learn about birds. We protect what we love, and, I promise that the more you learn about birds, the more your wonder for them will grow. I first became interested in birds when working for an organization that focuses on conservation and the protection of species at risk. Despite that, my fascination for birds really grew when I started watching them from my home or at parks, and learning about the species I was seeing and hearing. Birds are beautiful and intelligent species, and they are critical parts of healthy ecosystems.
As I wrote this article, the bird feeder outside my window was visited by Chickadees, Song Sparrows, Crows, Bluejays, Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-breasted Nuthatches and Red Polls! To identify birds, I suggest using the Merlin Bird ID app.