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Bird Myths Busted

1. MYTH: If you start feeding birds, don't stop or they'll starve.

BUSTED: Many birds are happy to visit your backyard feeders. But birdfeeding is more for your enjoyment than for the birds' survival. Birds usually can get along just fine without the seed you put out. If you stop feeding them, they'll go back to finding food the way they always have.

2. MYTH: If you touch a baby bird, the parents will pick up your scent and abandon the nest.

BUSTED: Most birds don't have a keen sense of smell, so they probably wouldn't notice your scent. But they might see that you've discovered their nest's hiding spot. And that might make them feel less safe there and want to leave. So if you do find a nest, it's OK to watch the action—but not for long and only from afar.

What if you come across a feathered baby bird hopping around on the ground? Chances are, it was time for it to be out of the nest, so just leave it alone. The parents are most likely nearby, watching and waiting for you to go away. Soon, they'll be back to take care of their little one.


3. MYTH: Birds migrate to escape the cold.

BUSTED: The truth is that birds handle the cold pretty well. They can fluff up their fuzzy feathers to trap warm air next to their skin. And they can seek shelter. But food such as insets and fruits may be harder to find in places with cold winter weather—especially when everything is covered by snow and ice.

Some birds can find what they need and stay in once place year-round. Others migrate to places where there's morefood to go around.


4. MYTH: Birds are "bird-brained."

BUSTED: Birds may have tiny heads. But that doesn't mean they're simple-minded. In fact, many birds are quite smart.

There's a kind of jay, for example, that hides thousands of nuts far and wide. And it can later find almost every single one again. That tells scientists that the bird can form a mental map and has a great memory.

There's also a kind of crow that makes tools out of twigs to pull insects and other tidbits out of deep holes.

And there's a species of parrot that likes games such as rolling snowballs and ripping people's cars apart—for fun. It's also an expert problem-solver. Scientists hide food in puzzles, and the parrots figure them out in a snap.


5. MYTH: Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red.

BUSTED: Well, yes, they are. They're also attracted to pink, purple, yellow, orange, blue, and white. Hummingbirds have excellent color vision, but they don't really have favorite colors. They have favorite flowers, though, which often—but not always—happen to be red.

Hummers go for flowers that have lots of sweet nectar hidden in long nectar rubes—just right for their long bills and tongues. If they have luck at one such flower, then they'll be on the lookout for others like it, no matter the color.


6. MYTH: Robins are one of the first signs of spring.

BUSTED: That might depend on where you live and how watchful you are. Some robins migrate far. Some migrate only short distances. And some don't migrate at all. So chances are good that you could actually see robins at any time of year.

If you don't notice robins in winter, it might just be because they spend more time in woods, feeding on berries and other winter fruits. You'll probably notice them again as your backyard thaws. That's when worms come up to the surface—where the robins can snatch them. That's also when there's plenty of mud from melting snow and spring rains. Robins use the mud to build their nests.


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