Feeding Wild Birds

Feeding wild birds is a controversial topic. Many people love feeding birds and feel that they are helping them, but there are also many people who believe that people should not be feeding wild birds at all. 

The potential risks of feeding wild birds include:

  • Spreading disease;
  • Malnutrition if the wrong foods are given;
  • Contributing to an imbalance in the bird species, with more dominant birds proliferating excessively;
  • Exposing the birds to a higher risk of predation, as birds may congregate around sources of supplementary food, attracting predators such as cats and dogs; and
  • Making the birds dependent on human-provided food and less able to survive without human assistance.

Even as wildlife rehabilitators we can have difficulty establishing the correct diets when caring for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife. They need the correct diet in order to grow properly.

Alternatives to Feeding Wild Birds

Overall, experts agree that it is better not to feed wild birds because of the potential harms mentioned above, however, many people still want to feed birds. If you are interested in helping wild birds, here are some alternatives to feeding them:

  • Consider providing a bird bath with water. A birdbath can be a valuable source of drinking water for birds and a place for birds to bathe. A birdbath should be placed at least 1.5 m off the ground and out in the open so that predators cannot sneak up on unsuspecting birds. It is also important to change the water daily, and keep the bath clean by washing it regularly.
  • Consider planting native plants that are food for wild birds. This provides appropriate food sources for native wild birds, and avoids many of the problems with giving them other food such as bread, wild birdseed, or meat.

Reproduced courtesy of the SPCA (read the full article here)

A kereru in the garden
A kereru in the garden

Foods That Should NOT Be Fed To Birds

Seed Mix

Many birds attracted to such seed mix are not even seed eaters - some are nectar eaters and most are insect eaters.

The digestive systems of nectar eating birds (e.g. tuis and silvereyes) are designed for liquid intake, and grains may actually cause damage to their sensitive tongues with which they collect nectar.

A juvenile Tui enjoying some fresh fruit
A juvenile Tui enjoying some fresh fruit

Bread

Bread should not be fed to birds for the following reasons:

  • It has poor nutritional value, causing deficiencies and predisposing birds to disease and deformities. 
  • It reduces calcium levels which can cause softer egg shells, which in turn can affect the fertility rates of birds.
  • It can lead to a rise in  bacteria levels in waterways, as uneaten bread settles to the bottom of ponds and rots, contaminating the water (botulism).
  • It can ferment in the gut, causing bacterial infections as well as gum infections.


Honey

Never put out honey or honey-water for birds. Birds love it but so do bees, so this practice can spread bee diseases.

Raw sugar water is better, used in a 1:8 ratio.

Make sure dishes are cleaned daily to avoid spreading of disease.

Feed the Birds in your Garden Naturally


1. Grow native trees.

2. Know your birds.

3. Find out what they need.

4. Select plants to grow so food is available all year.

 

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