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Wild Birds: To Feed or Not to Feed?

Feeding birds isn't a modern hobby. Ancient Hindu texts dating back 3500 years already talk about bird feeding for pleasure and enjoyment. Over time, many cultures have engaged in this pastime—some simply scattered food on the ground while others used dishes or dedicated table feeders. Birds have always brought beauty and happiness to people, regardless of location, wealth or social status.

In 1910, Hans Berlepsch came up with a smarter, portable birdfeeder that catered to the birds' needs and reduced waste. That's when bird feeding took off globally, and it's been growing ever since. Then, a huge surge in popularity happened during the Covid lockdown. In the United States alone, it's estimated that over 60 million people feed birds. That is, more than one in five Americans feeds birds. It's hard to think of any other hobby that's so popular!

Right from the start, bird feeding proved to be a win-win-win situation: it brought joy to people, connected them with nature, and helped the birds, especially during periods of food shortages, like heavy snowfall periods in Europe or the bushfire periods in Australia. But like always, if something is beneficial, someone will tell you why you shouldn’t do it. Bird feeding is no different. Lately, especially with the surge during the COVID pandemic, some are getting worried.

So, why isn't everyone a fan?

Some argue that feeding birds disrupts natural wildlife behaviour, fearing that birds might become reliant on handouts and forget how to find food on their own. This concern is valid, yet I couldn't find conclusive research to support or refute it. If you have any information, I'd appreciate it.

Another concern revolves around the spread of disease. In 2020, for instance, over 11,000 Blue Tits in Germany were found dead from a bacterial respiratory infection. Some believe that the abundance of bird feeders and the growth in their popularity during the pandemic—especially among inexperienced enthusiasts—may have contributed to these infections.

To feed or not to feed, what's the best course?

The opportunity for birds to connect people with wildlife, making people care and want to protect nature, outweighs, in my view, any negatives. We simply need to learn how to maintain our birdfeeders to minimize the transmission of diseases. It's not difficult. Keeping the feeders and the areas around them clean and sanitized not only keeps the birds safe and healthy but also allows us to enjoy their happy hangouts in our gardens and backyards. It also offers wonderful photography opportunities, as you can see in the image below.

For further insights, consider subscribing to my blog for regular updates. Happy nature exploration!

Note: This article was published in German in the  Wildtierschutz Deutschland magazine (Wildlife Protection Germany):

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