Steeves/Trail Mix: Mystery injuries show up on finches

Feeder birds such as finches are showing up with broken and missing legs and other injuries, to the dismay of Mission-area resident.

Pygmy nuthatches belly up to an old-fashioned feeder

According to a reader in the Mission area of Kelowna there’s carnage happening amongst the feeder bird population.

He’s been watching as a succession of finches visit his feeder suffering from broken and missing legs, and one with a head injury.

His theory is that the new ‘squirrel-proof’ feeders are causing harm to some of the songbirds who get caught when the feeder shroud malfunctions, catching them unawares while feeding.

These feeders are designed only to activate under squirrel weight, not bird weight, so it’s not clear just what’s going awry, but bird watcher Mike Brown can’t imagine what else could be causing what he’s been seeing for the past six weeks.

At first, he said he saw one finch favouring a leg, but then it got worse and worse, with a foot falling off and three or four others with broken legs and bones sticking out.

He’s desperately concerned, but not sure what he can do to fix the problem since he doesn’t know the source of the injuries.

Has anyone else out there seen similar injuries, or does anyone have a squirrel-proof feeder that could be malfunctioning?

Otherwise I can’t imagine what could be causing the injuries, much less what can be done to prevent them.

Further to my column last week about the annual Christmas Bird Count, there was also a count done at Big White for the fourth year, that showed there’s a healthy population of common redpolls and mountain chickadees.

As well, it’s no surprise that Rock Pigeons and Common Ravens find the pickings good at a resort, noted long-time Kelowna birder Denise Brownlie.

In fact, 167 redpolls were counted, along with 132 mountain chickadees, 108 ravens and 50 rock pigeons, along with 59 gray jays and 47 pine grosbeaks.

At this time of year, birds and other wildlife subsist under sometimes very difficult conditions—ones I certainly don’t envy—so it’s criminal if we are making it even more difficult by causing injuries as we try to help them out with a bit of feed.

While it is fun to watch the birds at the feeder, don’t let them get into the habit of expecting your feed if you plan to stop feeding for part of the winter, because you then leave them vulnerable.

In a year like this, with just a light cover of snow, life isn’t quite as hard for them as it when the snow is deep, but there are still lots of dangers out there for them.

We’re experiencing some of the shortest days of the year, and that alone makes it difficult for day-active birds to get enough to sustain them. On the other hand, does that would mean it’s easier for owls and other nocturnal birds?

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News.