Bird Study – The Question Of The Weed Seeds

The work of the Chickadee, the Nighthawk, the Cuckoo, and the Flicker is only an example of the good being done by at least two-thirds of birds in the United States, and most of the remainder are not without their beneficial qualities. When the coming of winter brings a cessation of insect life, many birds turn to the weed patches for food. Especially is this the case with the various varieties of native Sparrows.

No one has yet determined just how many weed seeds one of these birds will eat in a day. The number, however, must be very great. An ornithologist, upon examining the stomach of a Tree Sparrow, found it to contain seven hundred undigested pigeon-weed seeds, and in the same way it was discovered that a Snow Bunting had taken one thousand seeds of the pigweed at one meal.

Mr. E. H. Forbush, the well-known Massachusetts naturalist, frequently amuses himself by observing the birds near his house as they feed on the millet seed that he provides for them. Speaking of some of the things he saw here, he says, “A Fox Sparrow ate one hundred and three seeds in two minutes and forty-seven seconds; another, one hundred and ten in three minutes, forty-five seconds; while still another Song Sparrow ate one hundred and fifty-four in the same length of time. This Sparrow had been eating for half an hour before the count began and continued for some time after it was finished.” It is readily seen that thirty seeds a minute was below the average of these birds; and if each bird ate at that rate for but a single hour each day it would destroy eighteen hundred seeds a day, or twelve thousand six hundred a week. Some day the economic ornithologists under the leader-ship of Professor F. E. L. Beal, America’s leading authority on the subject, may give us a full and exhaustive account of what the various birds do for us in the way of keeping down the great scourge of grass and weeds with which the farmers have to deal. In the meantime, however, we may bear in mind that enough evidence already has been accumulated to prove that as destroyers of noxious weed seeds the wild birds are of vast importance.