The summer brings forth a conclave of activities and a host of wildlife that lay dormant during the winter months. Birds of all kinds spread their wings and scour the land for food and nesting grounds. The time for bird feeding is more promising when the sun is shining. In recent years bird feeding has become more popular with the expansion of environment conservation. Studies have been conducted as to whether overfeeding may be too much of a good thing for a species. The possibility of affecting survival cropped up by the birds unable to hunt and feed naturally.
In the winter of 1984 an avian ecologist Stanley Temple and his colleague Margaret Brittingham took away a bird feeder from the nature centre at Devil’s Lake State Park. It had been stocked every winter for the past 25 years. They gathered 49 feeder black capped chickadees and placed them with another 35 in an environment that had a lack of feeders. Temple wrote that the results showed zero evidence that the birds were changed. The rate of survival was the same.
The study also showed that the chickadees gained only 20 to 25 percent of their calories from the feeders. Birds will inevitably move on to another food source when another runs out e.g. left over insects from a previous season.
The novelty of feeding birds in the back garden has now spiraled into ‘citizen science’ projects that help track birds and focus on the types that settle in urban environments. Citizen science is defined as groups of people who carry out research in a none-professional capacity. This growing enthusiasm proves that people are becoming more sensitive about the environment as a collective. Citizen science projects have become essential to ornithologists when tracking data.
The use of pesticides has shown to affect a number of birds e.g. Barn owls ingesting rodenticides when hunting for mice. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the US loses 21 million acres to residential landscapes every ten years. Fortunately these areas are showing an increase in the number of bird watchers and feeders.
These avian enthusiasts are willing to pay for bird seed ranging from $7 to pricier brands of $50. Founder of Wild Birds Unlimited Jim Carpenter gives his opinion on bird seed trends. “We had a really big spike about two and a half years ago and it’s settled in since then.” Wild Birds Unlimited encourages the public to feed birds in order to see them rather than for their survival.
Environmental groups are trying to alter the demographic for bird watching. A 2011 consensus by the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that 91 percent of people who watched birds around their home were white. Karen Ann Purcell of the Citizen Science department at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reflected that she wanted to appeal to all demographics. In order for science to prosper people from all walks of life need to be involved to improve situations.
Cornell has developed several projects to raise awareness. Working with the National Science Foundation a project called Celebrate Urban Birds is under way. It links over 9000 communities with participants who have no prior bird experience. The project will aid people in knowing the correct way to feed birds and the ones to look out for in their garden.
Bird feeding has become a noble idea. Watching birds flock to a garden and knowing they are being fed can be a majestic image. With new campaigns being driven forward the welfare of wildlife is continuing to improve. All it takes is a small batch of seeds to contribute towards a brighter future.
What do you think are other ways of improving the welfare of birds?