Europe, birdseed, Peregrine Falcons, suet
Answers to readers' questions about hunting and trapping, feeding, and prey selection
Published: June 22, 2006
Is it still common for residents of some European countries to catch songbirds for food? — Otis Trimble, Payson, Arizona
Yes. The illegal killing of birds goes on today in southern France, northern Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta, and Cyprus. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), hundreds of millions of birds are killed annually. Songbirds, raptors, and shorebirds are among the targets. Many are taken for the table. In Cyprus, for example, birds are included in a national dish and considered a delicacy.
Both the RSPB and BirdLife International have active campaigns to halt the illegal slaughter of birds. Much of the effort concentrates on seeing that European Union member countries uphold a directive on the conservation of wild birds. In a victory for bird advocates, Malta recently announced changes to its hunting laws. Seasons will be shortened, and trapping and the use of speed boats to hunt ducks will be outlawed. In addition, a recent poll found that two-thirds of Malta residents oppose bird hunting and trapping.
For more details, see the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or BirdLife International.
Is organically grown birdseed better for birds? And are vegetable-based suet cakes digested more easily than regular suet? — Jon Levin, Macungie, Pennsylvania
Presumably (one hopes), whatever chemical residues are left on commercial birdseed is of negligible health risk to birds. For me, the most compelling argument for feeding organically grown birdseed is the encouragement of organic farming methods. It is estimated that 72 million birds die from pesticide exposure annually in the U.S. This does not take into account birds that suffer from sub-lethal effects, such as decreased reproductive success. Harmful chemicals are certainly used on birdseed crops. For example, the EPA still allows parathion, known to be highly toxic to birds, to be used on nine crops, including sunflowers. So any reduction in pesticide use - and an increase in market demand for organic products - is a big step in the right direction.
As for the suet, technically, vegetable-based fats are easier for a bird to digest and metabolize than animal fats. The notion that this is "better" or "healthier" for birds, however, comes in large part from the pet bird trade, because pet birds fed high-fat diets quickly become overweight and unhealthy.
On the other hand, wild birds need slowly metabolized fat, which provides them energy and warmth, especially in the winter. Since that's the whole point of feeding suet to birds, the suet cakes made with animal-based fat are "better" for wild birds.
Peregrine Falcons control the pigeon population where I work in downtown Boston, but we have lots of gulls. Why don't the falcons eat or scare away the gulls? — Robert Stafford, Belmont, Massachusetts
Peregrine Falcons will eat gulls. I have seen them do so here in downtown Detroit. Pigeons are the favored meal in urban areas, however, probably because they are much easier to nab.
It's just as well, because gulls are known to store a lot of pesticides and other chemicals in their fat. When Peregrines eat gulls, the pollutants are passed on and cause egg-thinning or other problems.
Does suet containing seeds attract the same birds that regular suet attracts? — Virginia Braddy, Hobgood, North Carolina
Feel free to feed your birds suet with seeds in it. All the species that like suet will eat suet cakes with seeds.
If you can't find seedless commercial suet, you might ask the butcher at your grocery store to save raw suet for you and cut it into chunks that will fit in your suet holders. It's cheaper than store-bought suet cakes, and you can put it out as is. There's no need to render it. When the temperature gets above 70 degrees F, though, dispose of the suet because it will turn rancid.