Virtually all our backyard birds would survive without our feeders. Yet bird-feeding stations can be crucial to the continued survival of certain species, and some feeders even play an important role in protecting against climate change. How can that be?
I found out firsthand in September 2016, when I visited northern Peru. A South American conservation organization, the Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos, has been working tirelessly with support and help from American Bird Conservancy, the Alliance for Zero Extinction, BirdLife International, and a variety of other partners, to protect critical ecosystems of the Andes. Habitat protection is the goal, and bird-feeding stations are one of the important tools being used to achieve it.
My birding group took a route running across northern Peru, wending our way toward the famous Abra Patricia Reserve, located in the Yungas, a narrow transition zone along the eastern slope of the Andes, where bird diversity is close to the highest on the planet. Abra Patricia is an important conservation site, protecting more than 25,000 acres for the critically endangered Ochre-fronted Antpitta and Long-whiskered Owlet, as well as a host of other resident tropical birds and overwintering North American birds, such as Swainson’s Thrush.
Huembo, a tiny reserve outside the nearby town of Pomacochas, was established in 2005 to protect the breeding and foraging areas of one of the most spectacular hummingbirds in the world, the endangered Marvelous Spatuletail. The reserve also helps other rare species, including a tiny hummingbird and a tiny woodpecker, the Little Woodstar and the Speckle-chested Piculet.
Great looks at a great hummingbird
My group visited the Huembo feeding station in the afternoon, when light was low, but every birder got great looks at two spatuletails. We also visited small feeding stations in other reserves to see such rare hummingbird treasures as Koepke’s Hermit, Gould’s Jewelfront, and Rufous-crested Coquette.
Birders and ecotourism groups are allowed to visit the feeders in exchange for small monetary contributions. The donations provide a steady trickle of income, enabling locals who once made their living by logging or burning land for agriculture to make a better living by protecting habitat and showcasing rare birds. Even better, as more and more people learn how valuable their hummingbirds are, more communities are choosing to protect their own land. The feeders that make rare birds accessible for us provide the income to make habitat protection financially sustainable.
Any progress we can make in protecting tropical forests advances our fight against climate change — burning fossil fuels contributes about 14 percent of global carbon emissions, while tropical deforestation contributes about no less than 15 percent.
Traveling burns natural resources, so after my trip, I contributed to a carbon-offset project. But I was thrilled to know that my enjoyment of Peru’s spectacular birds was directly helping their long-term survival. — Laura Erickson
Laura Erickson’s column “Attracting Birds” appears in every issue of BirdWatching magazine. This article appeared in the January-February 2017 issue. Laura is a co-author of Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds, and the author of Laura’s Birding Blog. In February 2014, she received the American Birding Association’s highest honor: the Roger Tory Peterson Award.
Five more columns by Laura Erickson
MORE THAN BIRD SEED
Four major threats to birds may lurk in your yard.
THE GIVING TREE
How Red-bellied Woodpeckers turned a bad spot into a good nest.
Feeding birds entails serious responsibilities.
Nests in your yard are delightful, most of the time.
TO YOUR HEALTH!
Steps to take to keep backyard water features safe for birds.