Debate was raging recently on Facebook between bird enthusiasts as to whether feeding wild birds was harmful or not.
After some research, I came to the conclusion it’s not feeding them that’s harmful, but instead what we are feeding them.
Many people love birds in their gardens, and feed them as they feel they are aiding in their survival. Others do it as they like to have closer contact with birds, or keep them around longer.
As a keen bird enthusiast and photographer since early childhood, I have met so many like-minded people. Those with great affection for wildlife - particularly birds.
They are colourful, have beautiful calls, pollinate our flowers, bring people closer to nature, and may well reduce stress. Yet the very people who love birds are causing them so much harm.
The damage caused by an incorrect diet is not immediately visible and is effecting many birds right across Australia. It is upsetting the balance in several ways.
What we are feeding them is the problem.
Giving bread to birds is like force-feeding junk food to children. High quantities of salt are present in bread and processed foods and it can cause sickness and deformities in young birds.
Bread is so bad for birds, but seeds and meat can cause health problems as well. Processed meats are high in salts, fats and preservatives.
Another harmful food is black sunflower seeds as they contain too much fat and are not even good for seed-eating birds. The bird seed purchased from supermarkets usually contains black sunflower seeds. The better quality seed from pet suppliers has the striped seeds which are much healthier.
Unnatural food weakens birds and fills them up, taking away their need to hunt for their natural foods that maintain health. This can also result in weak offspring.
Feeding stations can increase aggression and stress as many birds try to feed together, which doesn’t happen naturally. It can cause a concentration of food, and large numbers of birds in one place can spread psittacine beak and feather disease.
Feeding can also increase the number of feral or non-native birds, and attract pests like rats, mice and cockroaches.
Native birds do not need extra food, so artificial feeding is not necessary. Supplementary feeding of birds has been shown to cause some species to breed earlier and more often than they would naturally.
Currawongs, kookaburras and ravens (omnivorous) are great opportunists. Increased numbers of these larger, more aggressive birds in many urban areas can be attributed to artificial feeding.
Currawongs and magpies have increased dramatically in numbers over time, forcing out smaller species from many areas. Currawongs, ravens, butcherbirds and kookaburras also eat the eggs and chicks of small birds.
Recently I counted 16 species of birds in our yard over the course of one day, yet we do not feed birds at all.
Instead we provide bird baths and numerous, flowering, and native plants to attract them without endangering their health. You certainly don’t need to feed birds to have them in your garden.