You Can Help Wild Birds Survive These Fires


Image: Audubon Society

 Wildfires are a troubling reality in California that seems to be getting worse.

“We’re having to confront the reality that wildfires, and all the destruction that comes with them, are going to be a bigger part of our future here in California,” says Andrea Jones, Audubon California’s director of bird conservation.

What do birds do when wildfires break out? No surprise here: They fly away. A fire might kill weak birds or, depending on the time of year, claim nestlings. But, at least in the Western forests that U.S. Forest Service research biologist Vicki Saab studies, birds evolved alongside fire and flee in the face of conflagrations. “Direct mortality is not a big concern,” Saab says.

But flying away is just the first step to surviving these large wildfires. With their normal food source in flames, one of the first things wild birds will need is nutritious feed. Jones says that the next few months will be particularly good times for people to put out food and water for birds, particularly if they live near the burn areas.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from people that they never saw a species of bird at their feeders until there was a big fire nearby,” Jones says. “These birds migrating through are going to need some help.” Good-quality feeds will provide the nutrition they need. Wild Birds Unlimited has products for all kinds of birds, especially our winter mix which has extras, such as berries and high-fat seeds.

Birds also need a source of water, because the seeps and streams they used to visit are dry or covered with ash. A bird bath, preferably with moving water and scattered stones where they can perch, can be a life saver. Don’t forget to refresh the water regularly.

Their need for bushes and trees where they can shelter may bring birds you have never seen before to your backyard. Enjoy them, knowing that your shrubbery may be their lifeline.

In news related to our current fires, the California Wildlife Center, Malibu reports that it has been able to evacuate all the birds and animals currently in its care. However, the evacuation are an extra expense. Wild Birds Unlimited will be contributing to the center and invites you to do the same by visiting the California Wildlife Center web site

How do wildfires affect habitat, and do any birds benefit from blazes? A little disturbance is a good thing for many species. In the dry, mixed-conifer forests Saab studies, most wildfires, even intense ones, burn unevenly, leaving behind a mosaic of habitat patches. “Fire definitely benefits a lot of bird species,” Saab says. “It’s not all doom and gloom.”

Wild Birds Unlimited will answer any questions you have about how to provide the food, water and shelter local birds will need to survive after the flames die down. Call us at 424-272-9000.

(This piece includes excerpts from articles by Garrison Frost of Audubon California, called Fire and Birds, and Andy McGlashen of the Audubon Society, called How Wildfires Affect Birds, written after the devastating fires in Northern California last year.)