Halloween is all about the fun of scaring and being scared, but the holiday can be a true horror for birds. Understanding the risks Halloween poses to birds can help you enjoy the spooky season without casting a conservation curse on your favorite bird species.
Many different birds are associated with spooks, specters, and Halloween—including owls, vultures, ravens, and crows. But this holiday can haunt all birds. Songbirds and backyard species can be threatened by even the most innocent Halloween activities. Larger threats to raptors can be perpetuated by misconceptions from Halloween tales and legends. Even migrating birds can face Halloween threats as they pass through on their seasonal journeys.
How Halloween Can Hurt Birds
There are many ways Halloween activities can be harmful to birds if not undertaken responsibly, including:
Yard decorations can threaten roosting birds and any birds seeking shelter in bushes, trees, or shrubs. Halloween light strands and cobweb decorations can be a tangle hazard for birds. They may restrict them from accessing essential roosting shelter or safe retreats from predators. Brightly lit decorations can even distract and disorient migrating birds, causing exhaustion or attracting birds to inadvertent window collisions.
Bits of unwanted candy, discarded wrappers, plastic bags, and other litter can all be dangerous to birds. Indigestible material can clog birds’ stomachs and cause starvation. Chemicals in dyed cloth, wrappers, and other litter can be toxic to birds and other wildlife.
Donuts, cookies, and other sweets are great Halloween treats for humans, but are not suitable to feed birds. Spilled crumbs and discarded scraps offer no nutritional value. They can contribute to poor health and dangerous foraging patterns when birds begin to expect handouts of human food.
Roosting birds can easily be disturbed by excited trick-or-treaters, particularly if children are running through yards and near bushes or trees where birds may have sought shelter at night. When birds are disturbed suddenly, they may accidentally collide with nearby walls or windows, causing injuries or fatalities.
A glowing fire can be a wonderful tradition on a chilly autumn evening and fun for a Halloween party. Untended fires can destroy critical habitat or may disturb roosting birds.
Owls are popular Halloween symbols, and it can be a treat to take an owling walk on Halloween to try to see these nocturnal birds. If not led appropriately, however, bright lights and too much noise can distress owls. This could interrupt their hunting behavior and may threaten young inexperienced owls.
While many birds will snack on pumpkin seeds, you should not leave pumpkins that have been painted or have ash or candle drippings in them in reach of birds or other wildlife. Old, moldy pumpkins can also spread disease and be dangerous to birds. If you do want to feed pumpkin seeds to birds, be sure to only use fresh ones, whether raw or roasted (without salt or seasoning).
Scary stories are a part of Halloween fun. But, stories that portray owls as evil omens or vultures as harbingers of death promote harmful superstitions. These beliefs can lead to prejudice and persecution of these amazing raptors, effects that can have long-lasting consequences.
See also: DIY Birdseed Ornaments
How You Can Help
While birds face many threats related to Halloween, it’s easy to take simple steps to safeguard your feathered friends without missing any of the season’s spooky happenings.
- Minimize how long you display outdoor decorations. Leave some trees and bushes without decoration to be safe, undisturbed roosts. Remove decorations promptly after the holiday.
- Pick up candy wrappers and discard them appropriately. Check that costumes are in good condition and not likely to lose pieces during trick-or-treating.
- Keep trick-or-treaters on the sidewalk and do not allow children to run through yards or across lawns between houses.
- Discard jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin decorations appropriately, composting them if possible but keeping toxic or dangerous decorations away from wildlife.
- Offer only appropriate fall foods for birds, and consider making birdseed ornaments in fun Halloween shapes or crafting pinecone bird feeders for a great holiday activity.
- If you are planning a bonfire, use proper fuel and keep the fire safely contained so it is not a risk to nearby habitats.
- Check with local birding clubs or Audubon chapters for owling excursions, or visit a zoo or aviary to see owls and other Halloween birds.
- Take time to learn more about Halloween birds, such as learning owl trivia or vulture fun facts to gain a new appreciation for these fantastic birds.
Halloween can be a great holiday and a lot of autumn fun. By being aware of the risks this holiday poses to birds, it is possible to enjoy that fun without endangering any wildlife.