IS SALT HARMFUL TO BACKYARD BIRDS?

       At this time of the year, most of us are making New Year’s resolutions.  One resolution many of us try to live by is to eat less salt this year.  Although the harmful effects of a high salt diet on humans are well documented, is the same true for the birds that visit our backyard feeders?

       The truth of the matter is we really do not know for sure.  However, contrary to some reports, anecdotal evidence suggests it more than likely is not a problem.  However, that is not to say that seeking salt does not have its risks.

       In north Georgia where salt is often spread on highways to melt ice, wild birds are sometimes struck by vehicles when they gather on and alongside the salt-treated pavement.  

       Birds have historically been known to eat salt at natural salt licks.  Here they eat salt laden earth.  Nowadays hunters, particularly those in the northern half of the state, put out salt for deer; like salt licks provided by Mother Nature, these manmade licks will also attract birds.

       Some birds definitely eat more salt than others do.  Birds that are drawn to salt include, purple finches, pine siskins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays, and crows. 

       Likewise, the mourning dove also has an affinity for salt.  For this reason, some unscrupulous hunters will bait fields with rock salt in hopes of drawing flocks of mourning doves within shooting range.

       I personally have never seen anyone purposely offer salt to backyard birds.  However, it has been reported when it is, birds will avoid it.

       However, when you come to think about it, we all offer salt to birds in other forms.  For example, alt is a major ingredient in the bake goods we feed to birds.  In addition, who hasn’t fed salted nuts to birds?  As such, our own personal experiences suggest the small amount of salt contained in these foods is not killing the feathered diners at our backyard feeding stations.

       If you want to see if birds are attracted to salt laden soil, you might want to sprinkle some salt on a small bare spot in your yard.  It will not take long for the salt to dissolve into the ground.  Then, keep an eye on the spot and see if any birds eat the salty soil.

       One word of caution:  I would not recommend you try this in an area where deer are abundant.  The last thing you want to do is attract white-tailed deer to your yard.

       I hope I have answered any questions you may have regarding the possible dangers of feeding salt to wild birds. 

       In the meantime, if you have had an experience with birds eating salt, I would appreciate it if you would share it with me.

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