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BACK TO NATURE - Are bird feeders bad news?

In some parts of the world, people have been feeding wild birds for centuries. Here in Australia it is a relatively recent activity, but one that is now participated in by many bird lovers across the country.

However, a debate rages on, should we be feeding wild birds, or should we be leaving them to source their own food, as they have been doing for the 60 million years before we arrived. It’s a very complicated issue, and one with environmental experts on both sides of the debate.

Why is it complicated? If you’ve ever grown tomatoes or bananas, then you’ve most likely had Australian King Parrots helping themselves to some of your crop. If you’ve ever grown grapes, figs, citrus or mangoes, then you’ve most likely had Rainbow Lorikeets invading your crop.

If you’ve ever grown sunflowers or other grain crops, then you’ve most likely had Pale-headed Rosellas and possibly Finches making a meal of your crop.

But why is that complicated you may ask. It’s complicated because in all of these examples, what the birds are feeding on is not a part of their natural diet. The case could therefore be argued that there’s no difference between a bird eating your exotic crop, and purposefully feeding those same types of foods to birds at a bird feeder.

So it’s a clear case then, the feeding of wild birds is a completely benign activity. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Centralised bird feeders can introduce several problems. If they are not frequently cleaned and sterilised, they can be a source for spreading a number of contagious diseases. A well-documented avian disease is Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). PBFD is a highly contagious disease that can infect any of the parrot and cockatoo species. There is currently no treatment for PBFD, and once infected, individuals usually face a long cruel decline before dying. 

Another problem associated with centralised bird feeders is that they can provide an unnatural advantage to predators. Cats, snakes and birds of prey have been known to survey bird feeders and lie in wait to score an easy meal.

Some people prefer to feed the meat eaters: Butcherbirds, Magpies, Currawongs, Crows and Kookaburras, but unfortunately this can introduce a range of different problems. If these species are fed regularly, over time it can result in unnaturally elevated numbers, to the detriment of smaller species and nestlings on which they also prey on. 

Some people choose raw minced meat to feed to their meat-eating feathered friends however, raw meat can lodge in the upper bill causing it to rot, usually resulting in death. These birds have evolved over millions of years to gain the essential elements from their natural diet that are required for them to remain healthy, unfortunately some of these essential elements are not present in the “butcher shop” food usually fed to them.

There is no question that those who feed wild birds do so with the best of intentions, and because they love the birds. Sadly, in many cases, there is more harm than good being done. The best advice is that if you have a desire to feed wild birds, think carefully about it, and make decisions based on sound research. Alternatively, just plant a range of native vegetation (grasses, shrubs and trees), install a bird bath (and frequently clean it), and enjoy our beautiful birds as they feed naturally



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