Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: There Are No Bad Birds


This time of year more than any other, I get bombarded with comments regarding so called “Bad Birds”: The birds that steal other birds eggs, eat all your bird seed and have the unmitigated nerve  to poop on your patio furniture.

According to some well-meaning, so called nature lovers birds are put in two categories. There are the so called “GOOD” birds, you know, the ones that are so sweet and kind that flit around the backyard for no other reason to make us feel good, the very same birds we could just kiss  on their little beaks. Then there are the “BAD EVIL BIRDS,”  the ones that have the sheer audacity to eat other birds or rob nestlings right out of your backyard birdhouse and according to some are “just plain mean bullies.”

During a presentation the other night I was approached by a well-meaning but disgruntled nature lover who said to me, “ How could you have a Blue jay on your newsletter? They are so mean and they eat baby birds and eggs!” My quick reply to that was ,“ Why ? I bet you do too.” Of course that did not go over extremely well and I should really think on revisiting  my notes on public relations . But it is nevertheless true. Why do we expect some kind of human morals even above what we expect of ourselves when it comes to wildlife ?

There are those folks that go into their backyards and attempt to chase off hawks that may want to prey upon their favorite little “GOOD” birds that are attracted to their birdfeeders. Aside from looking like a crazy person to the neighbors by waving a broom in the air, for all intents and purposes it is illegal to harass a raptor, or any bird for that matter.

After all, like you and me, it is just trying to make a living and isn’t that why they call them birdfeeders anyway? Aren’t we really just providing a different kind of bird food ? And as for those so called “good birds,”  just about all of them eat those beautiful butterflies that we all love. A good friend tells me that Cardinals come and eat the Pipevine butterfly caterpillars she is trying to raise, so is a Northern Cardinal now a BAD bird ?

Too many people tend to think of wildlife and especially birds in simple “Good” or “Bad” classifications. As a naturalist I have many conversations with too many folks that otherwise consider themselves nature lovers that still insist that certain bird species are bad and others are good, as if somehow certain bird species decided to go bad and take up a life of crime I wonder if that is where the term Jailbird came from.

It is sad that we are making villains of creatures that through no fault of their own are either out of place due to man’s interference or are just doing what nature intended them to do.

Case in point is the Lowly European Starling and the English House Sparrow. Yes, they are a problem because they have hurt our native bird Species, especially the cavity nesters like Bluebirds. But are they bad? They didn’t just decide on their own to show up here one day and take up residence, Man in his infinite wisdom thought it would be a good idea to bring them here. Are they a problem: yes. Are they evil: no.

And it goes on. Blue jays are bad because they are bullies, but then for that matter so are Hummingbirds, but nobody ever accused them of being wicked, at least not that I know of. The Wild Turkey is a good example on how a Magnificent bird that was  just about gone from the New Jersey landscape is now thought of as a pest “ Oh those stupid Turkeys,” someone said to me recently. “They chase my cats around the yard”  And by the way I personally LOVE the Common Grackle, so there!

Brown-Headed Cowbirds are a favorite whipping-bird, especially among birders, they pose a serious problem to nesting birds such as Warblers species. But they are here because we changed the landscape from a Eastern woodlands habitat to an open habitat when people decided to cut down the trees. Cowbirds’ fault? Don’t think so.

And now we come to maybe the most hated bird in New Jersey, the Canada Goose . Yes, they have become a  problem at airports, lakes and schoolyards.  But instead of landscaping with native shrubs, trees and tall grasses which deter Geese,  we insist on creating places that the geese love like large corporate lawns and parks with huge expanses of low growing non-native grass made for no reason other than that is what someone thinks a park is expected to look like. Home owners who complain the most love that Kentucky bluegrass in the front yard, and then they wonder why the geese keep coming.
Does that make the Canada goose the most evil creature alive? Or does it just show how much we have to learn about living with wildlife. I remember how people used to look up in awe as they watched a flock of migrating Canada Geese cruise overhead. How times change ( I still look up in awe at the migrating geese).

The answer to this complicated question is that there are no good or bad birds, wildlife does not exist to either please or displease the human race. That concept is just man’s arrogance.  Calling Wildlife “Bad”  just cheapens its existence . We owe it to all creatures to learn a little more about them and how better to live with them  before we  create a creature that is looked at as bad . There are no bad birds. The human race has reserved the title of “bad”  for a few of its own kind.

4 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: There Are No Bad Birds

  1. John on Chubb Ave

    Ironic that towns that will do things to chase geese away will also fine it’s residents for not cutting their lawn.

  2. Karin

    So true. I don’t think of any birds as bad, but I do confess to preferring to see the rare ones at my feeder, and felt resentful when the sparrows and red winged blackbirds were eating most of the food. Now my husband has retired and has taken over maintaining the feeder. He knows very little about bird species, so he doesn’t care what kind visit, he just enjoys observing their behavior. So now I’m learning not to be such a bird snob.

  3. Don

    Nothing wrong with enjoying the rarities but it is just a matter of remembering to respect all bird species no matter how common

  4. Sally

    I do especially love to see unusual and beautiful birds, such as the Baltimore Oriole, which finally came again to my yard this year, after more than a decade of absence. Nevertheless, a too-small- to-really-fly starling gave my dog and me some interesting minutes when it got caught in some plastic netting on the line between my property and my neighbors. Fiesty little bird! Stayed around for at least two days. I hope it was able to fly away!


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