These days, with increasing evidence supporting the fact that time spent outdoors provides myriad health benefits and can promote environmentally conscious attitudes that can save our planet, many of us are looking for easy ways to reconnect with nature. But when it comes to animals, few of us get regular opportunities to view, up close, the fascinating critters that roam in our backyards.
Luckily, we have bird feeding, which has long been a popular way for people to get close to birds! Attracting birds to backyard feeders provides a great opportunity for kids and adults alike to watch the busy tweeters as they feed and socialize, which can be both relaxing and exciting (to learn how to make a simple, kid-friendly and inexpensive bird feeder, check out our Pinecone Bird Feeder post)!
But are birdfeeders really good for the environment?
Despite conflicting opinions about birdfeeders, there is no consistent, research-informed evidence which suggests that birdfeeders can harm bird populations. While a 2013 study published in the Nature scientific journal found that some birds which fed off of birdfeeders in the winter had less successful reproductive success the following spring, the authors of the study caution against taking this as evidence to stop feeding birds.
In fact, bird feeders can improve the health of local bird species, as long as you take the following into consideration:
Location, Location, Location
In order to prevent the birds that you are feeding from crashing into windows or ending up as lunch for a hungry neighbourhood cat, it is important to place bird feeders in areas that are high up, and away from transparent glass.
Many sources recommend hanging feeders in areas that are inaccessible to predatory mammals, such as on high, thin branches that only birds can access.
To prevent birds from accidentally crashing into windows as they fly in to access the feeder, some resources recommend placing the birdfeeder as far away from windows as possible. The Canadian Wildlife Federation recommends placing bird feeders at least 4 metres (about 157 inches) away from windows to avoid window strikes. For extra safety, consider pasting window decals or UV stickers on your window so that birds know that they are near a transparent surface! UV stickers are a particularly great option; they reflect UV light that only birds can see, so that your view of the great outdoors is not obstructed.
Time of Year / Season
While warmer seasons are great for birdwatching activities, spring and summer are not the best times to feed birds.
According to the Humane Society of America, bird feeders are most beneficial for bird populations during times at which other food sources are scarce, or when extreme temperatures have impacted an area. Bird feeders are also very helpful for birds when they are placed in habitats that lack healthy ecosystems. In general, feeders are most helpful in late fall and early winter, when seeds and plants are not readily available. During warmer seasons when food resources are abundant, bird feeders aren’t necessary; baby birds are usually busy learning how to source food from natural resources.
While it is true that some bird species (such as hummingbirds and goldfinches) benefit from summer bird feeders, as a general rule, save your feeders for colder months!
Type of Food in Feeder
Not all bird feed is created equally. In general, the best foods for birds are those that are high in nutrients and easy for birds to eat. While each bird species has its favourite foods, most birds enjoy black oil sunflower seeds, which are one of the best bird foods due to their high oil and caloric content, which keeps birds energized! Some birds also enjoy Nyjer seeds, millet, safflower seeds, and nuts! Many bird seed mixes that you can purchase locally will have some or all of these ingredients.
Stay away from including cooked oats, table scraps, bread, and moldy food, as these can be harmful to birds. Although humans may enjoy these foods, many (like chocolate!) can be poisonous for birds, who need a special diet in order to stay healthy.