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The Preachy Blog

To feed or not to feed

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2/8/2009 -- To feed or not to feed

blue jay bird feeder

Today I was watching some birds in our backyard who were enjoying some food we had put on our birdfeeder this morning. When you visit a state park or national park you learn that you should not feed wild animals to keep them wild. So is it actually ok to feed birds? I was not sure about this question so I started searching on the internet and found different opinions:

In one article from a German organization that provides information about wild birds ("Wildvogelhilfe" ) they say that in the past it was not recommended to feed birds (at all) as this would mean a interference with the natural processes of our ecosystem (they refer to Charles Darwin's model: only the fittest survive ... ).

On the other hand humans disturbed the natural ecosystem by eliminating a lot of naturally existing food sources: native flora like hedges and shrubs have to give way to exotic ornamental plants, domestic wild flowers and herbs that could provide bird food are considered weeds and thus are removed from the "perfect" lawn and flowerbeds. This destruction of habitat decreased the chance of survival for wild birds. Another opinion is that one should only feed birds if the ground is covered with snow or if the temperatures are around freezing point for a longer period of time. This statement assumes that nature provides enough food sources and that birds just need a little help when they cannot access all food sources due to snow and freezing temperatures.

The German Society for Nature Conservation says that at the worst feeding birds might lead to a change in the migration pattern of birds. According to the chairman of the German Society for Nature Conservation in Schorndorf there already are bird species that do not migrate south anymore. As examples he names the black redstart, the wagtail, and the starling.

More current research reports already do consider the decrease of naturally available food sources and thus recommend to feed birds all winter long. It might even be helpful to continue to provide food to birds when they are busy raising their young as adult birds often miss out while they are busy feeding their nestlings.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also says it is ok to feed birds year-round as feeders might provide a welcome source for migrating birds on their long way from their wintering grounds to their breeding grounds. They also provide some very interesting information about creating a bird-friendly backyard: "All about birds - Landscaping" .

So I guess that there is no easy and definite answer to this question - everybody has to decide on his/her own if birds need a food source in addition to what nature can provide them.
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