Animals & Money: Can we cut back on the $3.3 billion we spend on birdfeed?


Cash-strapped people are cutting back on foods for themselves, so I expect that our budgets for wild birds and animals will be pinched, too. And what a budget it is! According to the Fish and Wildlife Service's 2006 survey of outdoor recreation, we spent $3.3 billion on birdseed and $642 million on food for other wildlife (mainly squirrels, I'm guessing, since I do that to amuse both me and my dog). That's $84 for each of the 49 million bird-feeders and $56 million for each of us feeding squirrels or deer. (And other researchers, like the Census Bureau, say there are 65 million bird-feeders among us.)

But what can you do to make sure you don't let your birds down? Or the squirrels don't start getting pushy (like this guy in the picture). The good news for bird and squirrel lovers is that there are plenty of ways to help your outdoor friends without blowing a lot of money.

The biggest help to birds isn't food, it's water. Especially in the winter. The National Wildlife Federation's guide for a bird-friendly yard recommends keeping water out year-round. You just have to replace the water every few days. You don't have to get a special birdbath, either. Look in the hardware store for a giant planting container, then find the giant saucer that goes under it to hold water.