Let's first address a serious disconnect about this practice. Bird feeding is allowed here in Australia, but is strongly discouraged by some bird life activists and wildlife experts. This begs the question: Is it okay to feed birds from home? Professor Darryl Jones says yes, and even encourages it — but on several conditions:
1. Give the birds snacks, not full meals. They’ll get most of their food the natural way anyway.
2. Keep bird food simple and avoid anything processed, or anything that contains sugar or salt. Seeds and commercial pet food are best.
3. Change the menu regularly.
4. Keep your bird feeders clean.
Now, the next question is: Should you feed the birds? To help you make that choice, we've compiled the pros and the cons.
Artwork by Mia Laing
It allows you to help the birds.
Whether due to natural causes, like freezing cold temperatures or raging bushfires, or man-made ones such as urban development, wild birds are gradually losing their habitat. And this means that they are also losing their natural food sources. Bird feeding represents a helping hand, as leaving food in your feeders will help supplement these birds’ diet — and maybe keep them alive in some extreme cases (as when bushfires gripped the country last year).
It lets you connect with nature.
By welcoming these animals, you get to be one with nature and be more conscious of it. A study of people feeding birds published in People and Nature proves this point, noting how bird feeding represents a “widespread interaction between humans and nature.” Interestingly, the study also found that bird feeders often exhibit emotional and behavioural responses relative to their practice of feeding wild birds. Some, for example, make a conscious effort to shoo away predators, while others tend to notice natural changes, like an increase in the number of birds in the area or incidence of disease.
It makes you step away from work.
As in many countries, there is now a surge in work-from-home arrangements here in Australia, no thanks to the current global health situation. Such setup is no doubt a godsend, but staring at your computer all day can also be a source of stress in and of itself. This is why lifestyle writer James Gonzales recommends introducing breaks throughout your day, to help you recharge and remind yourself that it’s not all about your work. One way to take a quick break is to engage with the birds. There is even research behind the benefits of this with the University of Queensland, the University of Exeter, and the British Trust for Ornithology finding that “lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon”. Not only will feeding the birds take you away from work, but it will also help you relax as well.
Artwork by Murilo Manzini
It might put the birds in danger.
Sometimes the intention is good but the outcome can come out bad. That's true with bird feeding, as you're putting the birds in what researcher Bill Chaisson calls an unnatural situation, where they cluster together in your feeders. This potentially exposes them to predators — with common culprits being house cats and larger birds. With the birds gathered in one place, and likely distracted from seeing potential threats, they are at greater risk of becoming meals themselves.
It’s a lot of work.
Wild bird enthusiast Melissa Mayntz notes feeders will get messy, as "birds don’t have good table manners." Your feeders will be full of spilled seeds, discarded hulls, bird faeces, and discarded feathers in no time, and will likely be foul-smelling, too. All that can even cause the growth of unwanted weeds! That’s the kind of mess you’ll need to clean up on a regular basis, and it’s a lot of work — especially if you have a job. Feeders also require ongoing maintenance to keep them clean and safe for birds, and to keep them in good condition given how they're exposed to the elements. Being a responsible bird feeder is much more than simply putting food out.
It might attract unwanted guests
Birds aren't the only ones looking to score free treats. Unwanted wildlife will eventually get wind of the free meals in your feeder, and will likely want to munch on some for themselves. These unwanted guests will mostly be mice, squirrels, rats, raccoons, and deer. If you don’t want your local wildlife regularly coming into your garden, it might be best to find other ways to help.
Artwork by Mosessa
If you are looking for alternative ways to help Australia’s wildlife, do support LaLaLand's plant-a-tree project to help rehabilitate and preserve areas affected by the Australian bushfires. In this way, you'll also be helping our birds.
Article written by Rae June
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