Seeing a backyard filled with flourishing wildlife during any season of the year is desired by many and one common way to achieve this is through bird feeding. In fact, studies have shown more than 40% of Americans feed birds in their backyards and in the United Kingdom it is 75% of households. These stats alone show bird feeding is a popular activity, but is it safe to do from a conservation point-of-view? The answer, in short, is yes! And especially during the winter. Although scientists are still building their knowledge and understanding on the conservational impacts of bird feeding, the overwhelming majority of studies conducted on this topic have shown the effects to be positive.
Some of these positive effects include the increase in overwinter bird survival, birds making it through the winter in better physical condition, the laying of larger clutches of eggs, higher weights for chicks, and overall higher breeding success for birds throughout a wide range of species. A specific study conducted in Wisconsin on black-capped chickadees showed birds with access to seed had a survival rate of 69% and the birds without access to human-provided seed had a survival rate of 37%. The most substantial impacts of bird feeding are seen when birds are at their most vulnerable state. Vulnerable states other than wintertime can include when birds are still young and learning their way and when birds are living in low-quality habitats.
To help scientists gain a better understanding of birds and bird feeding, any individual at home can even become a citizen scientist and contribute through a program called Project FeederWatch. This is a program that asks people with bird feeders to share their observations by inputting their data online with an easy-to-use system on feederwatch.org. The data collected here helps scientists track long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. Project FeederWatch also provides excellent resources for the most common feeder birds including what they eat and where they prefer to eat it.
It is important to note that birdfeeders are good for birds as long as a few simple guidelines are followed. Make sure to clean feeders at least a few times a year or in between seasons. Purchasing a bird feeder made of nonporous material such as plastic, steel, or glass can make cleaning more manageable. It is also advantageous to have more than one feeder to help allow for ample space between all the different birds. With this being said, the location of the feeder varies depending on the birds you will be feeding. For example, sparrows and mourning doves eat at ground level, while cardinals, finches, and jays are known for eating at table level or from a hanging feeder.
The type of seed used to feed is also necessary to take into consideration. When a birdseed mixture targets a wide range of species, a lot can end up going to waste, especially when the seed is packed with fillers that birds will pick through to create a larger mess. Finding a seed specifically for the birds that will be feeding in any given area is always best. Furthermore, make sure to clean up the residual messes because this leftover seed can turn into a mixture of gunk that can make ground-feeding birds sick.
Following these simple tips, one can have a backyard filled with life even in the coldest days of winter. Not only will the sights of the beautiful birds be enjoyable, but the lives of many local birds will also be sustained if not improved.