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Is it right to feed birds?

 
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So is it healthy to put out bird seed?  We are taught to never feed the ducks, chipmunks, bears under any circumstances.  Why is it ok to feed the birds?  Any knowledge? Facts?  Research?  Thanks everyone!
 
pollinator
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Mammals could easily become dependent on humans, or be a nuisance, or eat things that are not healthy for them.

Birds on their long migratory routes won't have their behavior altered by feeders, and what you do feed them mimics what they would find in nature.  And since our domesticated cats kill an ungodly huge number of birds, anything we do to help the birds out is bringing things back into balance in my opinion.  

 
pollinator
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As Matt said, migratory songbirds are under tremendous pressure from all sides.

I work hard to create habitat for birds, including migratory birds. Bird feeders are part of that, but the mix of cover and open area (safety from predators), bird edible plants, availability of water, and relentless harassment of day-hunting cats completes the picture.

Interestingly, even when the feeders are full of seed, I see my birds spending a lot of time foraging in the nearby woods and natural areas. I don't believe I'm creating dependency, only providing a top-up to give them a fighting chance.
 
gardener
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I have resident birds (not so many migratory here, in an urban setting), and I do feed them. I want them to be here, for my own selfish reasons (I like their singing, I like to watch them, I imagine that the presence of some birds encourage other ones that eat insects to hang around and help out). I figure everyone else is doing their best to drive them away and destroy their habitat, so I'll go the other way and encourage them to stay here rather than driving them farther away into fewer, decreasingly smaller natural territories.
 
master steward
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Alison Godlewski wrote:So is it healthy to put out bird seed?  We are taught to never feed the ducks, chipmunks, bears under any circumstances.  Why is it ok to feed the birds?  Any knowledge? Facts?  Research?  !



This may have something to do with the area you live in.

I can understand not feeding bears, and even the others you mentioned might be because they can become a nuisence if people feed them regularly.

Where I live I get a discount on my county taxes for helping birds, deer, and other wildlife by feeding them, providing water and even shelter.

This year we have really enjoyed watching the migrtory birds as they stop by for water and birdseed.
 
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We feed the resident birds during the winter months. In the spring, they let us know when their natural forage is coming online by ignoring our offerings.
 
pollinator
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I used to have lots of feeders, 15 yrs ago - then I moved to where there were tons of roaming cats and felt it would essentially be 'bait' for the cats.

With our new metal (cat excluding) fence half done I went ahead and went feeder crazy! Ended up with a safe zone that I call "The Food Court" beneath a bountiful old Willow Tree with nine feeders, plus suet feeders; and a dozen hummingbird feeders scattered across the property. Then I added six nest boxes, let the blackberries run wild, worked to make the pond bird friendly and the majority of the property was left unmowed for habitat.

Aside from the pure enjoyment of watching them feed, forage, and raise their young; their songs were joyful and abundant. What I did NOT expect was when everyone was complaining how bad the bugs were this year, we had maybe 10% that we had experienced in all the years we have been here!

The untended long grasses and pond SHOULD have been a massive breeding ground for mosquitoes - I think we each got three bites, all season! Bottle flies could never be kept out of the house, we had swatters in EVERY room, used daily (if not hourly)n despite all the screens, along with sticky fly strips. This year we swatted just two flies, and needed NO sticky strips! The fly bags never came out of storage - historically we had at least four that were changed every few weeks.

I have absolutely nothing but anecdotal information, but the creation of the mini bird sanctuary SEEMS to have conquered the BUG situation. So aside from the pure pleasure the constant flocks of Junco's, Chickadee's, Bush Tits, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers, Sparrows of all sorts, House and Gold Finches, we apparently have created natural bug control!

So I sya YES to feeding the birds - BUT do spend the time and money getting feeders that do not create waste and cause a rodent issue. All but three of my original feeders have been replaced with more efficient feeders and seed that limits waste significantly.
IMG_20200822_170443.jpg
Bird Feeder
Bird Feeder
IMG_20200822_170252_hdr.jpg
A row of bird feeders
A row of bird feeders
 
pollinator
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Thanks for sharing your experience, Lorinne.

There is some controversy about year-round feeding here in Germany, but the ornithologist and environmentalist I trust most wrote a book about why it is important to feed the birds through all seasons. We are seeing a scaring drop in both insect life and bird populations.
It is more difficult to substitute food for those birds that live on insects rather than grains, but we can substitute by providing a natural insect habitat in our gardens.

I don't feed much in my garden.
My neighbour has several feeders in his big tree which I can see from my huge window (where I am sitting right now) and it is a joy to watch the birds. Better than television.

I also experience flocks of sparrows that have their share of our chicken food (plus they forage in the garden), and I have seen an increase in the European Goldfinch since I leave the thistles and the wild chicory, they also feed on sunflowers and evening primrose (the seeds).

The birds certainly reduce pest pressure and I suspect even pick out ticks from the grass. I see sparrows and starlings (among others) hopping through the grass foraging.
distelfink_karde.JPG
finch on teasel
finch on teasel
distelfink_wegwarte.JPG
finch on chicory
finch on chicory
 
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I guess its good to feed birds especially if your in place that is a food desert for them. I wish I knew how to attract this most awesome wood pecker I saw a few years ago. it was the most beautiful wild creature I'd ever seem it was at least 18 inches tall and was the most brilliant red white and black colors. truly spectacular.
I'm no expert but from what ive read it was most likely either a pileated or (thought to be extinct) ivory bill woodpecker.
birds are some of the most beautiful creatures and why not give them some help to survive.
 
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I typically don't feed much during summer, but fall through spring, and especially in cold weather, I try to make sure the feeders are full. Like others have said, the bird population isn't doing well and I try to help sustain the native species that live around my property. I don't feed as much in summer because of english sparrows, which are a nuisance here. They eat too much and waste even more.
 
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Location: West Midlands UK (zone 8b) Rainfall 26"
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Anita Martin wrote:goldfinch on teasel.



Superb photo!  I find goldfinches are difficult to get a nice shot of as their little black eyes disappear into the black eyestripe.

I feed the birds but not a huge amount and rather erratically.  I feed a variety of stuffs and see lots of birds foraging in the garden nearby while they are queuing up.  I tend on the side of - the birds are under pressure from habitat loss, pesticides and cats and anything we can do to help them is a good thing.  I hear people say you should never stop once you've started as the birds will become dependant, but I think birds are used to natural food sources drying up and having to search for new ones.  Someone near here is feeding the ducks on the canal and they have made a terrible mess of the towpath as there is always a  huge gang gathered waiting for the next handout.  I would draw the line at that level of feeding.  I'm sure it also contributes to the yearly problem with too many drakes.



 
gardener
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I set out bird feeders when the weather gets rough in my area around Christmas. I keep them full until spring.
 
steward
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Some species of birds may be thought of a part of the human guild. There may be some type of implied contract between us and those species, which requires us to feed them.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
pollinator
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Joseph, that is an interesting perspective.

We certainly have bird species that add value in, say, insect control; but they are mostly self-sustaining provided we can keep the cats and squirrels and corvids out of their nests.

Are you thinking of native or introduced species?  

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Species like house sparrows, pigeons, doves, starlings, pheasants, quail, etc have followed the human civilization wherever it leads. It is those birds that I think of as belonging to the human guild. Many of them are primarily urban  and suburban birds. Probably could add robins and crows to that list. And monk parakeets.
 
Hester Winterbourne
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:Species like house sparrows, pigeons, doves, starlings, pheasants, quail, etc have followed the human civilization wherever it leads. It is those birds that I think of as belonging to the human guild. Many of them are primarily urban  and suburban birds. Probably could add robins and crows to that list. And monk parakeets.



House martins are a great example.  Surely before there were houses there would have been huge areas of the country where there were simply no nest sites for them.
 
pollinator
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For their foraging habits under my fruit trees, I love them. That is quite beside their wonderful songs and their intrinsic beauty. Some eat insects, so they are quite helpful in their own right. And doesn't it feel good to be a positive force for Nature? And even if you hunt, you are helping yourself by helping game birds.
 
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Hester Winterbourne wrote:House martins are a great example.  Surely before there were houses there would have been huge areas of the country where there were simply no nest sites for them.



But there were far more natural habitat options before humans started dropping as many logs as they could and especially taking out dead trees, trees with "faults", etc.
 
echo minarosa
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Even with mammal feeding, not all situations are the same. If the feedings are healthy, diverse options, then I don't see any issues. Even in bear feeding experiments, most scat shows a majority of wild forage.

On the bird side, if you regularly clean feeders in order to keep down disease, and provide diverse healthy options, I can't see that as a bad thing. You still see them forage. Also, humans have mangled habitat. I add numerous water sources, box options, and plant with insects in mind. If you're a gardener who places importance on having birds, then you're a caterpillar gardener...or you should be.

I run 6-7 hummingbird sugar solution feeders as well. But I have also planted with them and other pollinators in mind. Anecdotally, while hummingbirds use these feeders, they spend the majority of time on the plantings all over the lot.

But there are clearly times when feeding is detrimental. Look no further than public feeding spots for ducks and geese. People usually bring junk food...bread to feed them. You almost never see grains, fish parts, etc (depending on what your recipient is). One place in my area is between 5 restaurants and people bring out their doggy bags for the ducks and geese. All they get is inappropriate food all the time. The birds are there in such huge numbers and in such a small area that diseases quickly spread and they get large population buildups which then crash. The diseases like avian botulism are horrible ways to die. People mean well but don't understand the implications of their actions.

Anyway, boiled down, it is perfectly acceptable to provide habitat factors for wildlife...clean and healthy foods, sanitary conditions (including regular and rigorous cleaning schedules) fresh water (renewed frequently), gardening for habitat structure and for the production of additional resources, nesting or sheltering structures both natural & artificial, and building your knowledge of the species you get are key. And some of the same decisions you make for birds are those you'd make for mammals, insect pollinators, butterflies, etc. If you keep building in layers of habitat complexity, you'll see a biotic response. But also don't be surprised when that includes predators. My yard and its feeders are hunted by red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawks, and especially sharp-shinned hawks daily. I hate it when some birds are taken as I'd love to see them preferentially take European starlings and house sparrows but it doesn't work that way. Two years ago when a sharpie died in the yard in the middle of winter, it was subsequently food for one or more of the opossum regulars.

Anyway, the fact that we are seeing the responses at by many species and at various trophic levels along with the regular appearances of new species are signs that the rewilding part of our plan is working. 4.5 years ago everything was lawn and a jungle of non-native invasive vines. No, it feeds a variety of animals...human and non-human.

 
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