Debunking bird myths

Bird lovers occasionally run across advice that it's a bad idea to feed birds. On behalf of his feathered friends, and the folks who love to feed them, Bill Thompson III begs to differ.

In fact, Thompson, editor of Bird Watcher's Digest, has devoted a few pages of his new book, "Identifying and Feeding Birds" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.95, produced with Peterson Field Guides), to debunk some of the conventional wisdom.

Myth: Bird-feeding is bad for birds.

Birds know how to find food out in the "real world," Thompson writes.

The food they get from backyard feeders represents "a nice compromise between our desire to see birds in our backyards and the birds' willingness to take advantage of our largesse."

Myth: Feeders keep birds from migrating.

"Migration is driven by instinct and external factors" such as the amount of sunlight and the changing weather, Thompson writes. But, he adds, migrating birds do need extra food, so keep that in mind when you're stocking the feeder in spring and fall.

Myth: Birds will starve if you stop feeding them in winter.

"Birds have evolved over the eons as incredibly adaptive, mobile creatures," he writes. That said, he does recommend soliciting the help of a neighbor to keep your feeders filled when you're gone for, say, a two-week vacation in the midst of winter.

Thompson, writing from personal experience, adds "your birds will not starve, they will just go somewhere else to find food. Then you'll have to work to lure them back!"

Of course, once you've opened the birdie cafe, expect a variety of diners.

Thompson's book offers great color photos and a bounty of valuable information for 125 common backyard birds, as well as lots of tips on the care and feeding of these amazing creatures.