Helping Our Wild Feathered Friends

Author: Jessica | 03/16/21

Rufous Hummingbird

A Rufous Hummingbird looks to feed on a native red-flowering currant on Whidbey Island in March 2021. In early spring, the pollen of red-flowering currant attracts bumblebees and hummingbirds. Later in the season, the plant produces berries that are a favorite of Cedar Waxwings, American Robins and other wildlife. Photo by Jennifer Holmes.

Editor’s note: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reported April 8 that reports of sick and dead wild birds had gone down substantially compared to earlier this year but still advised the public to remain diligent about keeping feeders and bird baths clean and to wear gloves while maintaining them. WDFW noted that if people do observe sick or dying birds in their area, they should remove feeders and baths again for a short time and continue to monitor. 


Steve and Martha Ellis aren’t concerned about wild birds going hungry in their yard.

When the Coupeville couple learned about a deadly salmonellosis outbreak among local bird populations this winter that led to a recommendation by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to take down bird feeders and bird baths, they didn’t worry. Steve and Martha are longtime birders who care deeply about birds and other wild creatures and their habitat.

Their property, just shy of an acre, provides many different native plantings that wild birds use for food and shelter.

“Birds simply do not require supplemental feeding, providing there’s an abundance of native trees and shrubs,” Steve said.

When reports of sick and dying birds in several Washington counties continued, WDFW  extended its advisory through April 1. Kristin Mansfield, veterinarian with the WDFW, said last week that the department is uncertain whether they will recommend that backyard feeders stay down beyond the date.

Golden-crowned Kinglet image

Golden-crowned Kinglets eat mostly insects, which will be more abundant this spring. Photo by Craig Johnson.

“It’s really hard to say,” Mansfield said. “Our hope is that we see a significant decrease in reports of sick and dead birds, which we do expect to happen as natural food sources become available and birds begin to spread out more.”

It seems spring can’t come soon enough this year, not for just the birds, but the many nature enthusiasts who care deeply about them.

“I would suggest that feeding during a cold snap or a snow event does save many lives,” Steve Ellis said. “The warming weather of March is sure to produce large populations of protein-rich invertebrates for the birds to munch on.”

Native plants nourish and sustain

Supporting the Whidbey Camano Land Trust is one way to help ensure that forests, wetlands, and other natural areas remain havens for birds, pollinators and other wildlife. The Land Trust not only preserves lands with an abundance of native plant life, but staff and volunteers also re-introduce native trees and shrubs during restoration and stewardship efforts.

One example is at Crockett Lake Preserve, where red-flowering currant, snowberry, Indian plum, Pacific crab apple and other native plants were planted in places where non-native invasive species were removed.

Implementing native plants into your own landscape is another way to help wild creatures.

Steve and Martha Ellis retained or planted many native trees and shrubs on their wooded property and have seen at least 65 different wild bird species.

Steve understands there is a natural longing to want to help birds by providing food.

“The real reason we feed is because people have a deep longing for connections to wild creatures, so we invite birds into our controlled spaces through the use of feeders,” he said. “When we retain or replant native flora, we’re the ones being invited into nature.”

Learn More

Some great resources to learn more about native plants that benefit wildlife:


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