Generosity for our avian neighbors

Red-winged blackbird. Photo by ©Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

The end-of-year holiday season is often marked by expressions of generosity towards those close to us and people whom we don’t know personally but for whom we wish to show love, compassion and care. As we now face a world riddled with hostility of all kinds, extending care to others, both human and animal, can help raise our spirits.

On the human side, we still have time to donate to gift-giving campaigns and groups that give away necessities for free to homeless persons, refugees and others in need. The Amity United Methodist Clothes Closet and Food Pantry accept donations of items in good condition such as clothing, shoes, pillows, carryalls and bags, and items for babies and small children. The Furniture Project donates gently used furniture to people hoping to furnish a dwelling.

Top right: Northern flicker. Top left: American robin. Bottom: cedar waxwings. All are eating red cedar berries. Photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

For those lucky enough to have yards, we can help some of our animal companions get through storms and winter weather by planting and tending native trees, shrubs and plants that produce autumn fruit and seeds. My home fortunately came with numerous Eastern red cedar trees and their berries are a treat for cedar waxwings, American robins and Northern flickers. This year, the trees had a bumper crop and flocks of birds have been enjoying the sweet fruit.

Top: American goldfinch feeding in sourwood tree. Bottom photos: American goldfinches feeding on seed plants near ponds. Photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

Many grasses and trees still have abundant seeds to attract American goldfinches. These delightful birds occasionally visit my feeders, but on the whole, they prefer the vegetation for feeding spots. They are usually in pairs or groups, happily sharing the cold-weather bounty.

Top left: ruby-crowned kinglet. Top right: hermit thrush. Bottom left: yellow-rumped warbler. Bottom right: Baltimore oriole. Photos by ©Maria de Bruyn.

Holly berries and winterberries are still abundant in many places. However, I discovered that the hermit thrushes are leaving them alone while they, ruby-crowned kinglets and yellow-rumped warblers continue looking for insects.

This year, I added a sweet treat to my feeders when a Baltimore oriole graced my yard for multiple visits. This bird species loves fruit and grape jelly. According to birding websites, they won’t eat seed, but my visitor has also grabbed a couple of seeds from a feeder now and again.

Some say that it’s better not to feed birds as they will become dependent on us. They also point out that birds feeding close to one another can more easily spread diseases and become victims of hunters such as cats and raptors. Cleaning the feeders regularly and raking away fallen sunflower seed shells has helped the birds in my yard avoid sicknesses.

Cooper’s hawk resting a bit after a meal at a local nature reserve. Photo by ©Maria de Bruyn.

Visiting birds can occasionally fall prey to hawks, however. Recently, I watched a Cooper’s hawk catch and eat a sparrow at a nearby nature reserve. My front windows have stripes drawn on them so that the birds don’t fly into them, but a few times they’ve hit a window when being chased by such a hawk. Most of the time, it’s a glancing blow, and they get away, but I have now found a dead cedar waxwing twice.

The loss of a bird is saddening, but I’ve decided to keep on feeding my avian visitors. Given the increasing eradication of natural areas near my neighborhood, I believe giving the birds a hand is humane and can contribute to species survival.

If you’re interested in knowing which foods are best for birds that live in our urban neighborhoods, check out these articles:

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and a healthy, happy and beautiful year in 2024!

Maria de Bruyn participates in nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers for Mason Farm Biological Reserve, NC Wildlife Federation and the Orange County Senior Center, coordinates a nature-themed book club and posts on Instagram ( and at

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