It’s OK to Feed Wild Birds — Here Are Some Tips for Doing It the Right Way
By Julian Avery
Millions of Americans enjoy feeding and watching backyard birds. Many people make a point of putting food out in winter, when birds needs extra energy, and spring, when many species build nests and raise young.
As a wildlife ecologist and a birder, I know it's important to understand how humans influence bird populations, whether feeding poses risks to wild birds, and how to engage with birds in sustainable ways.
There is still much to learn about the risks and benefits of feeding birds, particularly through large integrated national citizen science networks like Project FeederWatch. But we now have enough information to promote healthy interactions that can inspire future generations to care about conservation.
A Long-Term Relationship
Birds have been taking advantage of human civilization for thousands of years, congregating where grains and waste are abundant. This means that people have been influencing the abundance and distribution of species for a very long time.
Studies show that providing food has myriad effects on birds' decisions, behaviors and reproduction. One significant finding is that winter bird feeding increases individual survival rates, can encourage birds to lay eggs earlier in the year, and can also improve nestling survival.
All of these factors alter species' future reproductive performance and can increase total bird abundance in later years. It's not always clear how increased abundance of feeder birds impacts other species through competition, but rarer and smaller species can be excluded.
Supplemental food has also led to reduced reproductive success in a few species. This may happen because it improves survival odds for less healthy birds that otherwise would be unlikely to survive and reproduce, or because it leads birds to eat fewer types of natural foods, making their diets less nourishing.
Changing Bird Behavior
Research also shows that birds are extremely promiscuous. One review examined 342 species and found that in approximately 75 percent, birds had one or more side partners in addition to their nest mate.
It's not always clear why birds cheat, but several studies have found that supplemental feeding can reduce the amount of infidelity in certain species, including house sparrows. This hints that feeding birds might alter their behavior and have an effect on genetic variation in urban populations.
For birds that provide pollinating services, like hummingbirds and lorikeets, there is some evidence that providing them with sugar water – which mimics the nectar they collect from plants – can reduce their visits to native plants. This means they will transfer less pollen. Since much bird feeding happens in densely populated urban areas, it's unclear how much impact this might have.
Some bird populations depend completely on feeding and would collapse over the winter without it. For example, Anna's hummingbirds in British Columbia rely on heated feeders. Other species, such as hummingbirds in the southwest U.S., have become more locally abundant. Northern cardinals and American goldfinches have shifted and expanded their ranges northward with the availability of food.
Data from Project FeederWatch show Northern Cardinal populations expanding into the upper Midwest, northern New England, the Southwest and southeastern Canada. Virginia Greene / Cornell Lab of Ornithology / CC BY-ND
In one incredible instance, garden feeders seem to have played a role in establishing a new wintering population of migratory blackcaps in the United Kingdom. This group is now genetically distinct from the rest of the population, which migrates further south to Mediterranean wintering grounds.
Don’t Feed the Predators
Scientists still know little about how bird feeding affects transmission of pathogens and parasites among birds. It is not uncommon for birds at feeders to carry more pathogens than populations away from feeders. Some well-documented outbreaks in the U.S. and U.K. have shown that feeding birds can increase problems associated with disease – evidence that was collected through feeder watch citizen science projects.
Because we still have a poor understanding of pathogen transmission and prevalence in urban areas, it is extremely important to follow hygiene guidelines for feeding and be alert for new recommendations.
Feeding can also attract predators. Domestic cats kill an estimated 1.3 to 4 billion birds in the U.S. every year. Feeders should not be placed in settings where cats are present, and pet cats should be kept indoors.
Feeders can also support both native and introduced birds that outcompete local species. One study found that feeders attracted high numbers of crows, which prey on other birds' chicks, with the result that less than 1 percent of nearby American robin nests fledged young. In New Zealand, bird feeding largely benefits seed-eating introduced species at the expense of native birds.
Clean Feeders and Diverse Diets
The good news is that studies do not show birds becoming dependent on supplemental food. Once started, though, it is important to maintain a steady food supply during harsh weather.
Birds also need access to native plants, which provide them with habitat, food and insect prey that can both supplement diets and support species that don't eat seeds at feeders. Diverse food resources can counteract some of the negative findings I've mentioned related to competition between species and impacts on bird diets.
Good maintenance, placement and cleaning can help minimize the likelihood of promoting pathogens at feeders. Initiatives like Project FeederWatch have recommendations about feeder design and practices to avoid. For example, platform feeders, where birds wade through the food, are associated with higher mortality, possibly through mixing of waste and food.
Treatments on this window at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center prevent birds from thinking they can fly straight through the building and colliding with the glass. Julian Avery / CC BY-ND
It's also important to manage the area around feeders. Be sure to place feeders in ways that minimize the likelihood that birds will fly into windows. For instance, avoid providing a sight line through a house, which birds may perceive as a corridor, and break up window reflections with decals.
There are lots of great reasons to bring birds into your life. Evidence is growing that interacting with nature is good for our mental health and builds public support for conserving plants and wildlife. In my view, these benefits outweigh many of the potential negatives of bird feeding. And if you get involved in a citizen science project, you can help scientists track the health and behavior of your wild guests.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- Trump Admin Moves to Weaken Restrictions on Killing Migratory Birds ›
- Hummingbirds Live in a More Colorful World, Study Confirms - EcoWatch ›
By Astrid Caldas
As we reach the official end of hurricane season, 2020 will be one for the record books. Looking back at these long, surprising, sometimes downright crazy past six months (seven if you count when the first named storms actually started forming), there are many noteworthy statistics and patterns that drive home the significance of this hurricane season, and the ways climate change may have contributed to it.
A summary infographic showing hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms predicted from NOAA's 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook. NOAA
The updated 2020 Atlantic hurricane season probability and numbers of named storms. NOAA
- Tropical Storm Theta Is Record-Breaking 29th Storm of 2020 ... ›
- Hurricane Delta Breaks Record for Earliest 25th Named Storm ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dana Drugmand
An unprecedented climate lawsuit brought by six Portuguese youths is to be fast-tracked at Europe's highest court, it was announced today.
The European Court of Human Rights said the case, which accuses 33 European nations of violating the applicants' right to life by disregarding the climate emergency, would be granted priority status due to the "importance and urgency of the issues raised."
‘Protect Our Future’<p>Cláudia Agostinho (21), Catarina Mota (20), Martim Agostinho (17), Sofia Oliveira (15), André Oliveira (12) and Mariana Agostinho (8) are <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/09/03/youth-climate-lawsuit-portugal-33-european-countries" target="_blank">bringing the case</a> with nonprofit law firm Global Legal Action Network (<span style="background-color: initial;">GLAN</span>), arguing that none of the countries have sufficiently ambitious targets to cut their emissions.</p><p>Portugal recently sweltered through its <a href="https://www.ipma.pt/pt/media/noticias/news.detail.jsp?f=/pt/media/noticias/textos/resumo-clima-julho-20.html" target="_blank">hottest July in 90 years</a> and has seen a rise in devastating heatwaves and wildfires over recent years due to rising temperatures. Four of the applicants live in Leiria, one of the regions worst-hit by the forest fires that killed more than 120 people in 2017. </p><p>Responding to the development, André Oliveira, 12, said: "It gives me lots of hope to know that the judges in the European Court of Human Rights recognise the urgency of our case." </p><p>"But what I'd like the most would be for European governments to immediately do what the scientists say is necessary to protect our future. Until they do this, we will keep on fighting with more determination than ever."</p>
‘Highly Significant'<p>The decision represents a "highly significant" step, <a href="https://www.glanlaw.org/about-us" target="_blank">GLAN</a> Director Dr. Gearóid Ó Cuinn said in a <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/" target="_blank">press release</a>.</p><p>"This is an appropriate response from the Court given the scale and imminence of the threat these young people face from the climate emergency," he added. </p><p>By suing the 33 countries all together, the youths aim to compel these national governments to act more aggressively on climate through a single court order, which would potentially be more effective than pursuing separate lawsuits or lobbying policymakers in each country.</p><p>If successful, the defendant countries would be legally bound not only to ramp up emissions cuts, but also to tackle overseas contributions to climate change including those of their multinational enterprises.</p>
‘Major Hurdle’<p>The <a href="https://youth4climatejustice.org/the-case/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countries targeted</a> include all of the European Union member states as well as Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, none of which are currently aligned with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/paris-agreement">Paris agreement</a> target to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and pursue a limit of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).<a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> </a></p><p><a href="https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Action Tracker rates</a> most of Europe as "insufficient" in terms of its emissions reduction policies based on the Paris target, while Ukraine, Turkey and Russia are assessed as "critically insufficient" – meaning they are on track for a warming of 4 degrees C or higher.</p><p>The European Union has pledged to slash its emissions by <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/eu-climate-action/2030_ctp_en" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least 55 percent by 2030</a>. But the Portuguese youth plaintiffs are calling for cuts of at least 65 percent by 2030, a level that <a href="http://www.caneurope.org/energy/climate-energy-targets" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">European climate campaigners say</a> is necessary to meet the 1.5 degrees warming limit.</p><p> The 33 countries must each respond to the youths' complaint by the end of February, before lawyers representing the plaintiffs will respond to the points of defense. </p><p>"Nothing less than a 65 percent reduction by 2030 will be enough for the EU member states to comply with their obligations to the youth-applicants and indeed countless others," Gerry Liston, legal officer with GLAN, said in a press release.</p><p>"These brave young people have cleared a major hurdle in their pursuit of a judgment which compels European governments to accelerate their climate mitigation efforts."</p><p><span></span><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/11/29/court-advances-landmark-youth-climate-lawsuit-against-33-european-nations" target="_blank">DeSmog</a>. </em></p>
Will concern over the climate crisis stop people from having children?
- 'BirthStrike' Movement Encourages People to Stop Having Children ... ›
- Should You Have Kids Despite Climate Change? - EcoWatch ›
By Liz Kimbrough
Six grassroots environmental activists will receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in a virtual ceremony this year. Dubbed the "Green Nobel Prize," this award is given annually to environmental heroes from each of the world's six inhabited continents.
Kristal Ambrose, the Bahamas<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzI3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDM5NTk5MX0.fdMrrUqf0HvWq0Uh0Ii3mXxJczHPyN1jcnSsQoXoerE/img.jpg?width=980" id="b9e66" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b8b8777f7964bb7100672b3be0abf3fe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Kristal Ambrose. Goldman Environmental Prize
Chibeze Ezekiel, Ghana<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTgzOTE3OX0.KoEZr3oMPKbeG2uT8q-ZsGPOGtIZ3l6V6NXEK5U90FU/img.jpg?width=980" id="65224" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6ec640a8ba56a4db22b57e4f8734a7a4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Chibeze Ezekiel. Goldman Environmental Prize
Nemonte Nenquimo, Ecuador<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzM2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzYxODYwM30.cys5ZsFGd75UcjybADGBPFt20jrzgrsFujoj_qMTK4E/img.jpg?width=980" id="96b5a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0778ab7334e3297e0ead52d5fd1499e5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Nemonte Nenquimo. Goldman Environmental Prize
Leydy Pech, Mexico<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkzOTYzOH0.uHlN2FQoJJ_KFJWTn4oL__lDyjA0-HDnxewBhwgQRVg/img.jpg?width=980" id="9ab07" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc347126d4ce9ddbb3b9c1b4673391b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Leydy Pech. Goldman Environmental Prize
Lucie Pinson, France<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NzE0NTU1NX0.OutmX3sfl4pMaoYssTQ4zk7Y14_hans7-Z-0B0xsjfM/img.jpg?width=980" id="4bcd7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4bff14750dc0a70fc79e9484ea2bdbd4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Lucie Pinson. Goldman Environmental Prize
Paul Sein Twa, Myanmar<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0NzQxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDAyNjU0MH0.DHrKykngmcJyJ5rn4r91ANH7FmQ7Us6ZMEOis8yAzGY/img.jpg?width=980" id="8fa36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e703d62288df00931cd678c861c6e0b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Paul Sein Twa. Goldman Environmental Prize
- 'Erin Brockovich of Slovakia' Becomes Slovakia's First Female ... ›
- 'Work Together' or 'Destroy it': Goldman Prize Winner on World's ... ›
- World's Largest Environmental Prize Honors Historic Number of ... ›
- 'Moved and Inspired': Meet the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize ... ›
A large volcano in Indonesia erupted Sunday, sending a plume of smoke and ash miles into the air and forcing thousands of residents to evacuate the region.
- Australia Is Burning. Jakarta Is Drowning. Welcome to 2020 ... ›
- Scientists Weigh Volcano's Global Impact as Bali Residents Evacuate ›
- 1,400 Dead, 70,000 Homeless After Earthquake and Tsunami in ... ›