Steamboat Resort asks guests to stop feeding birds near Morningside lift
Those who have skied in the Morningside Park area at Steamboat Resort may have fond memories of feeding small gray birds, known as gray jays, that rest near the Morningside chair lift.
Though the memories may be fun, Steamboat Resort staff and the U.S. Forest Service are asking skiers and riders to stop feeding the birds, because giving them human food can be detrimental to their health.
Melissa Dressen, wildlife biologist for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, said feeding the birds disrupts their ability to nest and mate. Additionally, the food is not always safe for the birds and can reduce their success with reproduction.
“They should be building nests and finding their mates, and instead they’re spending time getting fed by humans,” Dressen said.
Dressen said the practice was not a concern at first, but as Steamboat Resort has increased in popularity, the lift lines have grown, and more guests have adopted the tradition. Mostly, she wants the people feeding birds in the Morningside Park area to change their behavior.
“We don’t want these birds to count on our skiers and riders for a resource for food,” said Steamboat Resort Director of Communications Loryn Duke. “We are asking our locals and our guests to change their behavior.”
A report from Yampatika and the Forest Service shows Canada jays who receive human food reproduce earlier than those who do not, which leads to nestlings hatching before the caterpillars they rely on. Early hatching can increase malnutrition and starvation, the report states.
A Canada jay’s survival is also closely tied to winter environments and the spring thaw.
Because climate change has brought less snow in the winter and hotter temperatures in the summer, Dressen said the birds have had to adapt their behavior, which has already put a strain on them.
The mushrooms and dried seeds that jays typically rely on are drying out and rotting earlier than normal because the snowpack melts earlier than it used to.
“With climate change, they are shifting some of their habits, and we don’t want to interfere with that,” Dressen said. “We want them to nest on time, we want them to have the appropriate foods, and we shouldn’t be interfering.”
Canada jays are also one of the only bird species that does not migrate in winter, which is why Dressen said it is particularly important for humans to stop feeding them and ensure they can stay in the area.
“We can’t change the birds’ behavior because they’re used to taking food from people, but if (people) are not offering it, (the birds) won’t take it,” Dressen said. “We’re changing our behavior, not the birds.”
To address the issue, Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. will install signage around the Morningside chairlift that reminds guests not to feed the birds. Duke said the practice may be difficult to enforce, but she hopes skiers and riders will recognize the importance of leaving the birds alone.
“We only benefit for a short term to get a photo or something, but it could have long-term effects on the local bird,” Duke said. “‘It’s so easy and so enticing to put your hand out and want a bird to feed off of you, but in order for this to work, we have to all work together.”