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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Birdfeeder Jeopardy

Air Date: Week of

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Mark Spreitzer, a high school sophomore in Chicago, used to celebrate the beginning of spring by filling up birdfeeders and watching for the mourning doves to return to their flower pot nest on his back porch. But now Mark has realized this may not be the best way to help his feathered friends.


CURWOOD: Many of us look forward to spring. But for commentator Mark Spreitzer, a high school sophomore in Chicago, each spring brings worries about the baby birds he watches in his backyard.

SPREITZER: When I was in fourth grade, a pair of mourning doves found an empty flowerpot on my back porch, and built a nest in it. Other doves have nested in the same pot off and on ever since. I like to watch the baby birds stretch their wings a few feet outside my kitchen window. They take turns walking to the edge of the flowerpot, flapping their wings and teetering on the edge, and then settling down again with mom.

My parents and I try to predict when the babies will leave the nest. I get to see the babies in the yard for a week or more after they learn to fly, with one of the parents watching from a tree for the first few days.

Of all the babies, my favorite was a bird I called Dumpling. She was from the very first batch of doves. And she stayed in the yard all summer. After seeing her around so much, I learned to tell her apart from the other doves by the pattern of spots on her wings. A few years later, she returned with a mate, and raised her own babies in the flowerpot where she was born.

My dad and I have always fed the birds. But now I'm afraid I might have been doing them more harm than good. By attracting birds, I also attract cats, and put the baby doves in danger. The first baby that I found dead was Dumpling's sibling, about a week after they had left the nest. When I didn't see him with Dumpling, I looked around, and found feathers under the trees where we hang the bird feeders. A cat had killed him.

A few years ago, I actually saw a cat attacking a mourning dove in my yard. I ran out and scared the cat away. But the bird was already badly injured. It was missing a lot of feathers, and I think it had a broken wing. There was nothing I could do for it. And it died later that day.

My neighbors have outdoor cats that come into my yard to kill birds. Their cats are well-fed. But they kill birds anyway because of hunting instinct. Some people put bells on their cats' collars. But the American Bird Conservancy says that bells don't stop cats from killing wildlife.

I have nothing against cats. I have three of them. They love to sit on the sun porch and watch the birds through the window. But unless my neighbors keep their cats inside too, they will find their way into my yard.

Last year, my dad and I decided not to put food out while the doves were nesting. I always assumed I was helping by hanging feeders in my yard. But my relationship with the birds is not as simple as it seemed when I was younger. I want to be able to watch birds in my yard. But I also want to do what's best for them. I'm still trying to figure out what I should do.

CURWOOD: Mark Spreitzer is a sophomore at Northside Prep High School in Chicago. He produced this commentary as part of Living on Earth's Ecological Literacy Project. For more on the project, and to hear other students' work, please visit the Living on Earth website, www.loe.org.

[MUSIC: Triakel “Old Sarah” American Garage - ECM (1979)]



Living on Earth Ecological Literacy Project: High School Education Program


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