Spring and early summer mark an exciting time for backyard birders in North America. While new life springs up all over the country, rare visitors pass through on the way to their summer homes, and old friends return to feeders and gardens. For many American birdwatchers, one of the most anticipated returning guests are the orioles. With colorful plumage and a beautiful song, it is no wonder that so many backyard birders covet orioles and seek out all sorts of ways to invite them.
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Orioles love fruit and are attracted to the dark rich colors of ripened fruit. Many choose to set out orange slices to attract them, as this is a frequent favorite. It is also common to leave out small amounts of jelly. Jelly is a sugary source of energy for orioles and is dark enough in color to attract them. In recent years, more and more birders have been relying on jelly to bring orioles in.
The avian rescue group, Raptor Education Group Inc, has issued a plea this year, asking backyard birders to stop putting out jelly for orioles. The group explains that they have had a number of hummingbirds brought to them with injuries caused by sticky grape jelly coating their feathers. Some have even died.
This may come as a shock to some, but this is not the first time that a rescue group has issued a similar warning. Wild Instincts, a wildlife rehabilitation group based in Wisconsin, issued a similar warning in 2021 when a chickadee was brought to them with similar injuries. The jelly that had been intended to nourish the orioles had melted into a sticky glue-like trap which ultimately killed the bird.
The last thing well-intentioned bird-lovers want to do is harm the birds that they are attracting, so how can this be avoided in the future? Raptor Education suggests that jelly only be used in cold weather when it is a quick burst of energy for orioles. In summer, the jelly can melt and stick to feathers. Additionally, jelly should only be fed in small amounts, and bird-safe jelly bought from a birdwatching supplier is a better choice than grape jelly from the store.
It is never safe to allow feeders to go unwashed, as they can become vectors for all sorts of diseases, including bird flu, while also attracting harmful pests. Feeders should be closely monitored and regularly cleaned to avoid spreading diseases. One final note is that, while feeding birds is rewarding and can be helpful rather than harmful, we are ultimately still interfering with a natural process. It is important to remember that birds should ideally be eating a mixed diet comprised of foods obtained through their natural behaviors. Feeding birds for our pleasure should never be done at their expense.
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