Bird feeding

Bird feeding is the activity of feeding wild birds, often by means of a bird feeder.

A bird table, with a wood pigeon on the roof, in an English garden. The table provides water, peanuts, sunflower seeds and a seed mix.


The British naturalist James Fisher wrote that the first person recorded as feeding wild birds was the 6th-century monk Saint Serf of Fife who tamed a pigeon by feeding it. During the harsh winter of 1890-1891 in the United Kingdom national newspapers asked people to put out food for birds. In 1910 in the United Kingdom, Punch magazine declared that feeding birds was a "national pastime."[1] Today in the United Kingdom, most people feed year-round, and enough food is provided to support the calorie requirements of the 10 most common garden bird species.[2] Bird feeding has grown into the United States' second most popular hobby behind gardening.[3] To celebrate the bird feeding hobby, February was named National Bird-Feeding Month by congressional decree in 1994.[4]


Bird feeding is typically thought of as an activity of bird enthusiasts. People who feed wild birds often attempt to attract birds to suburban and domestic locations. This requires setting up a feeding station and supplying bird food. The food might include seeds, peanuts, bought food mixes, fat, kitchen scraps and suet. Additionally, a bird bath and grit (sand), that birds store in their crops to help grind food as an aid to digestion, can be provided.

Feeding bread to waterfowl at parks, lakes and rivers is also a popular activity.


Bird feeding - Margaret Island
Seabird feeding

Certain foods tend to attract certain birds.[5] Finches and siskin will be attracted by Niger,[6] and jays love corn. Hummingbirds, sunbirds and other nectivorous birds love nectar. Mixed seed and black oil sunflower seed is favoured by many seed-eating species. In Australia, meat, especially raw beef mince (or ground beef), is commonly fed to wild, carnivorous birds such as Australian magpies and kookaburras. [7] Birds such as white-eyes, barbets, and some thrushes will take fresh and cut fruit. Different feeders can be purchased specialized for different species. It is not only small birds that are attracted by bird feeding. In some urban areas of the UK, red kites are fed chicken and table scraps in gardens.[8][9]

Garden birds can be fed using peanuts, seed, coconut (but never desiccated coconut) or fat (but not oils that are liquid at room temperature) using a variety of feeders.[10]

After the station is established, it can take some weeks for birds to discover and start using it. This is particularly true if the feeding station is the first one in an area or (in cold-winter areas) if the station is being established in spring when natural sources of food are plentiful. Therefore, beginners should not completely fill a feeder at first. The food will get old and spoil if it is left uneaten for too long. This is particularly true of unshelled foods, such as thistle seed and suet. Once the birds begin taking food, the feeder should be kept full. Additionally, people feeding birds should be sure that there is a source of water nearby. A bird bath can attract as many birds as a feeding station.

In North America, a fat commonly called suet, can be used to attract a variety of birds that may not reliably visit a birdfeeder containing seeds. In Texas, all common species of woodpeckers will use a suet feeder year round. In winter, Yellow-Rumped and Orange-Crowned warblers, Golden-crowned Kinglets and Northern Flickers could show up. In spring Northern Oriole and other warblers may visit as well. Suet feeders take quite a long time to get established sometimes taking weeks for the first birds to begin using it.


Vetbolletjes - wintervoeding
Bird feeding in winter
Fågelmatning - Ystad-2016
Feeding of seabirds in a harbor.

A study conducted in Sheffield, England, found that the abundance of garden birds increased with levels of bird feeding. This effect was only apparent in those species that regularly take supplementary food, raising the possibility that bird feeding was having a direct effect on bird abundance. In contrast, the density of feeding stations had no effect on the number of different bird species present in a neighbourhood.[11]

The use of bird feeders has been claimed to cause environmental problems; some of these were highlighted in a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal.[12]

Prior to the publication of The Wall Street Journal article, Canadian ornithologist Jason Rogers also wrote about the environmental problems associated with the use of bird feeders in the journal Alberta Naturalist.[13] In this article, Rogers explains how the practice of feeding wild birds is inherently fraught with negative impacts and risks such as fostering dependency, altering natural distribution, density and migration patterns, interfering with ecological processes, causing malnutrition, facilitating the spread of disease and increasing the risk of death from cats, pesticides, hitting windows and other causes. In the UK, introduced eastern gray squirrels can consume significant volumes of food intended for birds[14]. An experimental study providing supplementary food during the breeding season found that predation levels by corvids and eastern gray squirrels were higher when nests were located within close proximity to filled feeders.[15]

In a paper in the journal Oecologia, it was reported that feeding of blue tits and great tits with peanut cake over a long time period significantly reduced brood size. This was driven by smaller clutch sizes in both species and lower hatching success rates for blue tits.[16] Studies by the University of Freiburg and Environment Canada found that blackcaps migrating to Great Britain from Germany had become adapted to eating food supplied by humans. In contrast blackcaps migrating to Spain had bills adapted to feeding on fruit such as olives.[17]

Providing supplementary food at feeding stations may also change interactions with other species. Aphids[18] and carabid beetles[19] are more likely to be predated by birds near bird feeders.


Large sums of money are spent by ardent bird feeders, who indulge their wild birds with a variety of bird foods and bird feeders. Over 55 million Americans over the age of 16 feed wild birds and spend more than $3 billion a year on bird food, and $800 million a year on bird feeders, bird baths, bird houses and other bird feeding accessories.[20] The activity has spawned an industry that sells supplies and equipment for the bird feeding hobby.

In some cities or parts of cities (e.g. Trafalgar Square in London[21]) feeding pigeons is forbidden, either because they compete with vulnerable native species, or because they abound and cause pollution and/or noise.

See also


  1. ^ Moss, Stephen 2004 A bird in the bush. Aurum Press. p 102-103
  2. ^ Orros, Melanie E.; Fellowes, Mark D. E. (2015-06-01). "Wild Bird Feeding in an Urban Area: Intensity, Economics and Numbers of Individuals Supported". Acta Ornithologica. 50 (1): 43–58. doi:10.3161/00016454AO2015.50.1.006. ISSN 0001-6454.
  3. ^ Richardson, Scott. "Feeding Time." Pantagraph [Bloomington, IL] 31 January 2010. Print.
  4. ^ U.S. House. Representative John Porter of Illinois speaking on National Wild Bird Feeding Month. 103rd Cong. Congressional Record (23 February 1994). Volume 140.
  5. ^ ""Which Bird Seeds are Best?" from National Wildlife Magazine 1/31/2010". 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2011-11-15.
  6. ^ "Breathing Places - Nature activities". BBC. Retrieved 2011-11-15.
  7. ^ Reynolds, S. James; Galbraith, Josie A; Smith, Jennifer A; Jones, Darryl N (2017). "Garden Bird Feeding: Insights and Prospects from a North-South Comparison of This Global Urban Phenomenon". Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. doi:10.3389/fevo.2017.00024.
  8. ^ Orros, Melanie E.; Fellowes, Mark D. E. (2014-04-03). "Supplementary feeding of the reintroduced Red Kite Milvus milvus in UK gardens". Bird Study. 61 (2): 260–263. doi:10.1080/00063657.2014.885491. ISSN 0006-3657.
  9. ^ Orros, Melanie E.; Fellowes, Mark D. E. (2015-04-01). "Widespread supplementary feeding in domestic gardens explains the return of reintroduced Red Kites Milvus milvus to an urban area". Ibis. 157 (2): 230–238. doi:10.1111/ibi.12237. ISSN 1474-919X. PMC 4409027. PMID 25937644.
  10. ^ "BBC webpage on feeding birds". Retrieved 2011-11-15.
  11. ^ Fuller, R.A., Warren, P.H., Armsworth, P.R., Barbosa, O. & Gaston, K.J. 2008. Garden bird feeding predicts the structure of urban avian assemblages. Diversity & Distributions 14, 131–137. doi:10.1111/j.1472-4642.2007.00439.x
  12. ^ Sterba, James B. "Crying Fowl: Feeding Wild Birds May Harm Them and Environment", Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2002.
  13. ^ Rogers, J. 2002. Birdfeeding: Another viewpoint. Alberta Naturalist 31: 1-11.
  14. ^ Hanmer, Hugh J.; Thomas, Rebecca L.; Fellowes, Mark D. E. (2018). "Introduced Grey Squirrels subvert supplementary feeding of suburban wild birds". Landscape and Urban Planning. 177: 10–18. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.04.004.
  15. ^ Hanmer, H. J.; Thomas, R. L.; Fellowes, M. D. E. (2017). "Provision of supplementary food for wild birds may increase the risk of local nest predation". Ibis. 159 (1): 158–167. doi:10.1111/ibi.12432.
  16. ^ Harrison, Timothy J. E.; Smith, Jennifer A.; Martin, Graham R.; Chamberlain, Dan E.; Bearhop, Stuart; Robb, Gillian N.; Reynolds, S. James (2010). "Does food supplementation really enhance productivity of breeding birds?". Oecologia. 164 (2): 311–320. doi:10.1007/s00442-010-1645-x.
  17. ^ "Feeding birds can affect evolution: study - Technology & Science - CBC News". 2009-12-04. Retrieved 2011-11-15.
  18. ^ Orros, Melanie E.; Fellowes, Mark D.E. (2012). "Supplementary feeding of wild birds indirectly affects the local abundance of arthropod prey". Basic and Applied Ecology. 13 (3): 286–293. doi:10.1016/j.baae.2012.03.001.
  19. ^ Orros, Melanie E.; Thomas, Rebecca L.; Holloway, Graham J.; Fellowes, Mark D. E. (2015-06-01). "Supplementary feeding of wild birds indirectly affects ground beetle populations in suburban gardens". Urban Ecosystems. 18 (2): 465–475. doi:10.1007/s11252-014-0404-x. ISSN 1083-8155. PMC 4498636. PMID 26190913.
  20. ^ "Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation–National Overview 2007." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2006.
  21. ^ "Trafalgar's pigeon ban extended". BBC News. 10 September 2007. Retrieved 14 August 2017.

External links

Bird bath

A bird bath (or birdbath) is an artificial puddle or small shallow pond, created with a water-filled basin, in which birds may drink, bathe, and cool themselves. A bird bath can be a garden ornament, small reflecting pool, outdoor sculpture, and part of creating a vital wildlife garden.

A bird bath is an attraction for many different species of birds to visit gardens, especially during the summer and drought periods. Bird baths that provide a reliable source of water year round add to the popularity and "micro-habitat" support.

Bird feeder

A birdfeeder, bird feeder, bird table, or tray feeder are devices placed outdoors to supply bird food to birds (bird feeding). The success of a bird feeder in attracting birds depends upon its placement and the kinds of foods offered, as different species have different preferences.

Most bird feeders supply seeds or bird food, such as millet, sunflower (oil and striped), safflower, Niger seed, and rapeseed or canola seed to seed-eating birds.

Bird feeders often are used for birdwatching and many people keep webcams trained on feeders where birds often congregate, with some even living just near the bird feeder.

Bird food

Bird food is food (often varieties of seeds, nuts, or dried fruits) eaten by birds. While most bird food is fed to commercial fowl, people also use bird food to feed pet birds or wild birds.

The various types of bird food reflect the species of bird that can be fed, whether they are carnivores or nectar eating birds.

While it is a popular practice to feed wild birds from bird feeders, they can carry potential risks for the birds that feed there, such as disease, malnutrition, and predation by domestic animals. Researchers recommend that bird feeders be disinfected every time they are refilled.

Brown-chested lapwing

The brown-chested lapwing (Vanellus superciliosus) is a species of bird in the family Charadriidae.

It resides year-round in a narrow strip of land from southwestern Nigeria to northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo; its wintering range extends toward Lake Chad, Lake Victoria and northern Zambia.

It is a carnivorous bird feeding on insects, larvae, crickets, bugs, grasshoppers etc. Their preferred habitat is grassy lands, open savannas or grounds of Mopane forests.

Christman Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary

Christman Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary is a national historic district located near Delanson, Schenectady County, New York. The district includes six contributing buildings and one contributing structure on a largely wooded, rural 105-acre (42 ha) tract. It lies in the valley of the Bozenkill and includes a 30-foot (9.1 m) waterfall along the Helderberg Escarpment. Located on the property is a two-story frame dwelling built in 1868, a stone dairy house, barns, large stone walls, and an open lean-to built by the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club. The sanctuary had its beginnings in 1888 when property owner W.W. Christman (1865-1937) and his wife, the former Catherine Bradt, began a winter bird feeding program during the great blizzard of that year.It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.


Coturnism is an illness featuring muscle tenderness and rhabdomyolysis (muscle cell breakdown) after consuming quail (usually common quail, Coturnix coturnix, from which the name derives) that have fed on poisonous plants.

Gleaning (birds)

Gleaning is a feeding strategy by birds in which they catch invertebrate prey, mainly arthropods, by plucking them from foliage or the ground, from crevices such as rock faces and under the eaves of houses, or even, as in the case of ticks and lice, from living animals. This behavior is contrasted with hawking insects from the air or chasing after moving insects such as ants. Gleaning, in birds, does not refer to foraging for seeds or fruit.

Gleaning is a common feeding strategy for some groups of birds, including nuthatches, tits (including chickadees), wrens, woodcreepers, treecreepers, Old World flycatchers, Tyrant flycatchers, babblers, Old World warblers, New World warblers, Vireos and some hummingbirds and cuckoos. Many birds make use of multiple feeding strategies, depending on the availability of different sources of food and opportunities of the moment.

Hawking (birds)

Hawking is a feeding strategy in birds involving catching flying insects in the air. The term usually refers to a technique of sallying out from a perch to snatch an insect and then returning to the same or a different perch. This technique is called “flycatching” and some birds known for it are several families of “flycatchers”: Old World flycatchers, monarch flycatchers, and tyrant flycatchers. Other birds, such as swifts, swallows, and nightjars, also take insects on the wing in continuous aerial feeding. The term “hawking” comes from the similarity of this behavior to the way hawks take prey in flight, although, whereas raptors may catch prey with their feet, hawking is the behavior of catching insects in the bill. Many birds have a combined strategy of both hawking insects and gleaning them from foliage.


Mealworms are the larval form of the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor, a species of darkling beetle. Like all holometabolic insects, they go through four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Larvae typically measure about 2.5 cm or more, whereas adults are generally between 1.25 and 1.8 cm in length.

National Bird-Feeding Month

February is National Bird-Feeding Month in the United States. This celebratory month was created to educate the public on the wild bird feeding and watching hobby. Because of National Bird-Feeding Month, February has become the month most recognized with wild bird feeding promotions and activities. The month is an ideal time for promoting and enjoying the birds feeding hobby, which is home-based and nature-oriented.

National Bird-Feeding Society

The National Bird-Feeding Society (NBFS) is an organization in the United States whose mission is to make the hobby of bird feeding better, both for people who feed wild birds and for the birds themselves. To fulfill its mission, the NBFS conducts research and promotes education on wild bird feeding

Since its establishment in 1989, the NBFS has served as a resource for individuals to learn more about best bird feeding practices, and to provide individuals with information on how to move the bird feeding hobby beyond the backyard. The NBFS provides information on bird seed and bird feeder preferences, and provides bird feeding tips and a guide to better bird feeding.Daily operations of the NBFS are performed by the staff of Wild Bird Centers of America in Glen Echo, Maryland, and supported by Wild Bird Centers of America, Inc.

Nectar source

A nectar source is a flowering plant that produces nectar as part of its reproductive strategy. These plants create nectar, which attract pollinating insects and sometimes other animals such as birds.

Nectar source plants are important for beekeeping, as well as in agriculture and horticulture. Their use is particularly important for organic agriculture and organic horticulture, where they serve not only to attract pollinators for crops, but also provide habitat for beneficial insects and other animals that provide pest control.

In gardens, nectar sources are often provided to attract butterflies and hummingbirds as well.

Nest box

A nest box, also spelled nestbox, is a man-made enclosure provided for animals to nest in. Nest boxes are most frequently utilized for birds, in which case they are also called birdhouses or a birdbox/bird box, but some mammalian species may also use them, like bats for example. Placing nestboxes or roosting boxes may also be used to help maintain populations of particular species in an area. The nest box was invented by the British conservationist Charles Waterton in the early 19th century to encourage more birdlife and wildfowl on the nature reserve he set up on his estate.Nest boxes are getting more attention because industrialization, deforestation and other human activities since the mid-20th century have caused severe declines in birds' natural habitats, introducing hurdles to breeding. A nest box can help prevent bird extinction.

Pellet (ornithology)

A pellet, in ornithology, is the mass of undigested parts of a bird's food that some bird species occasionally regurgitate. The contents of a bird's pellet depend on its diet, but can include the exoskeletons of insects, indigestible plant matter, bones, fur, feathers, bills, claws, and teeth. In falconry, the pellet is called a casting.

The passing of pellets allows a bird to remove indigestible material from its proventriculus, or glandular stomach. In birds of prey, the regurgitation of pellets serves the bird's health in another way, by "scouring" parts of the digestive tract, including the gullet. Pellets are formed within six to ten hours of a meal in the bird's gizzard (muscular stomach).

Ornithologists may collect one species' pellets over time to analyze the seasonal variation in its eating habits. One advantage of collecting pellets is that it allows for the determination of diet without the killing and dissection of the bird. Pellets are found in different locations, depending on the species. In general, roosting and nesting sites are good places to look: for most hawks and owls, under coniferous trees; for barn owls, at the bases of cliffs or in barns and silos; for yet other species of owls, at their burrows or in marsh and field grasses.Hawk and owl pellets are grey or brown, and range in shape from spherical to oblong or plug-shaped. In large birds, they are one to two inches long, and in songbirds, about half an inch. Many other species produce pellets, including grebes, herons, cormorants, gulls, terns, kingfishers, crows, jays, dippers, shrikes, swallows, and most shorebirds.

Ornithologists examining pellets have discovered unusual items in them—even bird bands that were once attached to a smaller species that was consumed by the predator bird. In the United States, screech owl pellets have contained bands from a tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, and American goldfinch. In 1966, a golden eagle pellet in Oregon was found to contain a band placed on an American wigeon four months earlier, and 1,600 km (990 mi) away in southern California.The hair, bones and other body parts (such as limbs, skin fragments, and even faeces) of rodents found in owl pellets may carry viable rodent viruses and bacteria. It is therefore advisable to sterilize pellets in a microwave oven before study. This is particularly important when using pellets at school. Recently, Smith et al. described two pellet-borne outbreaks of Salmonella typhimurium in public schools. Rodents tend to avoid owl pellets, apparently due to their infective potential.

Plucking post

A plucking post is a raised structure such as a tree stump which is used regularly by a bird of prey to dismember its prey, removing feathers and various other inedible parts before eating it.

Poultry grit

Poultry grit is a material fed to birds consisting mainly of crushed stone (though often with additives) which helps the bird's digestion grind their food.


A puddle is a small accumulation of liquid, usually water, on a surface. It can form either by pooling in a depression on the surface, or by surface tension upon a flat surface.

A puddle is generally shallow enough to walk through, and too small to traverse with a boat or raft. Small wildlife may be attracted to puddles.


Suet is the raw, hard fat of beef or mutton found around the loins and kidneys.

Suet has a melting point of between 45 °C and 50 °C (113 °F and 122 °F) and congelation between 37 °C and 40 °C (98.6 °F and 104 °F). Its high smoke point makes it ideal for deep frying and pastry production.

The primary use of suet is to make tallow, although it is also used as an ingredient in cooking, especially in traditional puddings, such as British Christmas pudding. Suet is made into tallow in a process called rendering, which involves melting and extended simmering, followed by straining, cooling and usually by repeating the entire process. Unlike tallow, suet that is not pre-packed requires refrigeration in order to be stored for extended periods.

Sunflower seed

The sunflower seed is the fruit of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus). There are three types of commonly used sunflower seeds: linoleic (most common), high oleic, and sunflower oil seeds. Each variety has its own unique levels of monounsaturated, saturated, and polyunsaturated fats. The information in this article refers mainly to the linoleic variety.

For commercial purposes, sunflower seeds are usually classified by the pattern on their husks. If the husk is solid black, the seeds are called black oil sunflower seeds. The crops may be referred to as oilseed sunflower crops. These seeds are usually pressed to extract their oil. Striped sunflower seeds are primarily used for food; as a result, they may be called confectionery sunflower seeds.

The term "sunflower seed" is actually a misnomer when applied to the seed in its pericarp (hull). Botanically speaking, it is a cypsela. When dehulled, the edible remainder is called the sunflower kernel or heart.

Birds (class: Aves)
Fossil birds
Human interaction

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