Cindy Maxey-Droege/Maxey-Droege Imaging

January 11, 2020

The Pros and Cons. Can birds and squirrels live in harmony with you?

By Cindy Maxey-Droege

We were so excited to get our bird feeders up in our new home and reap the joys of bird watching. Days went by and the only thing we saw was a battalion of squirrels using our feeders as jungle gyms as they stretched like gymnasts to get a morsel of bird food. There was no deterring their efforts at shimming up, down, and over the feeders.

I am sure most of you, who have backyard feeders, have experienced this phenomenon. Most people either learn to live with the squirrels sharing your yard or dislike their presence as a nuisance. Finally, the birds came, in flocks: finches, cardinals, sparrows, bluejays, and woodpeckers. Backyard birding has many benefits, but first let’s talk a bit about the realities you may encounter. Anytime you introduce a food source, you will entice other creatures to your yard. Lee’s Summit has its fair share of deer, racoons, feral cats, and hawks.

After finally seeing birds at our feeder, we also began to notice days when the backyard feeders were void of anything but squirrels. Even the bird bath was still with water. Then we noticed a few things happening. A feral cat had been hanging around and was picking off not only birds, but chipmunks. This winter, when the juvenile hawks took up residence, we would also notice our feeders had no company…bird or squirrel. After a bit of research we learned that there are cons to backyard birding. If you put out food for birds, those birds can become a food source for feral cats, racoons, and hawks. Of course, the squirrels will come in by droves, but there are ways, which we learned, that you can keep them at bay from the feeders, if willing. One is to purchase feeders that won’t handle their weight and will immediately close so they can’t get to the food. You can also put corn feed on the ground or in squirrel feeders that will keep them busy.

We have learned to live with the fact that if we want to see birds, we will have to deal with how the natural world responds to the change of our backyard environment. The last thing that might deter people is cost. If you start feeding birds, it is important to be consistent. Winter can be especially harsh on birds and if they have come to rely on your food source it is important to keep replenishing your feeders. We have had to break the ice in our bird bath a few times, because, yes, birds get thirsty in winter too.

How do we benefit from setting up feeders in our yards? There are multiple reasons, but I will just name a few. Bird watching is great for young children. It helps them learn about the environment and hopefully fuels their curiosity about nature. Watching birds can be calming and help reduce stress. Bird feeding helps birds stay healthy all year round. For birds migrating, a feeder can help give them fuel to maintain their long-distance migrations. And, probably most importantly, as bird populations, especially songbirds decline, having a feeder can help baby birds thrive and make it through a season of drought or harsh weathers. For us, we are learning to appreciate all the wildlife birds have summoned to our backyard. Our friends call our backyard, the home of Dr. Dolittle. As people move further and further away from nature, backyard birding is a great way to remind us of the cycle of life and appreciate what nature grants our eyes and senses. Join me next week as the last chapter will discuss the importance of birds to our ecosystems.

Cindy Maxey-Droege, a Lee’s Summit resident, college professor, and part of Maxey-Droege Imaging team with Karen Maxey-Droege. To purchase photographs, visit

1 Comment

1 Comment

  • Ed Walters

    January 24, 2020 - 11:33 pm

    I have enjoyed your articles the past two weeks and look forward to next week’s. The photos are gorgeous. But as far as this week’s article, please stop perpetuating the myth that backyard birding benefits birds. Birds have been around since the Jurassic period, as opposed to the fairly recent arrival of man, so clearly they don’t need us. I’m sure they would rather we stop deforestation vs. putting a few scoops of seed around the yard. Backyard birding is a wonderful, relaxing hobby. The challenge of which is to see how many different types of birds you can attract. The purpose of putting out food and water is to make birds come in closer so you can get a better look at them, not to insure the survival of the species. So keep up the hobby!

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