Should we be feeding wild birds? How a desire to sketch birds led to a romp through the bird-feeding literature

Cross-posted on

Group of finches_v1You can tell it’s spring; the Internet is aflutter with bird articles.

A lot of those articles relate closely to the two-part series I just wrapped up about attracting wild birds using methods informed by ornithology research.

I was inspired to investigate the subject because we have a “new-to-us” backyard that is bare dirt. A few trees and shrubs sit at the corners of the lot, but that’s it. We’ve begun by seeding in some native grasses and installing a vegetable garden, and now are considering what we could do to attract birds.

20150502_Drawn to the West_Laramie Boomerang_screenshotIn part 1, Wild Birds: To feed or not to feed?, I  looked at stats from US Fish & Wildlife Services and Stats Canada that quantify the interest we North Americans take in wild birds.

I also briefly looked at what science research indicates about backyard bird feeding impacts (pros and cons), primarily because I really liked the idea of setting up a lot of feeders and watching colorful migratory species from our kitchen windows.

20150516_Drawn to the West_Laramie Boomerang_screenshot_rsSpoiler alert – in part 2, Wild Birds; Attracting without feeding, I wound up writing about all the research I discovered that suggests feeding isn’t very effective for attracting birds and can have a range of positive to negative consequences.

Happily, a lot of the research results also point to ways we can attract backyard birds without feeding.

Here are the research papers I referenced in that series, along with a handful of online resources about building bird habitat and feeder best practices.


Research articles

If you have trouble accessing the research articles, contacting the author is a great way to get a copy; I’ve provided links to author contact info for several of the papers.

1. Feeders aren’t the best way to attract birds.

2. Urban bird species differ from those found outside cities.

3. Factors affecting use of feeders


Popular articles & reports

1. Backyard Bird Habitat (aka Feeder Alternatives)

2. Feeder Best Practices

3. Birding and Birdfeeding Reports

The rest of the story

A fine anecdote to illustrate the potential for attracting birds without feeding has occurred in my own back yard this spring. 
As I described above, we have not done anything to specifically attract birds, and we have not set out any feeders. 
And yet, in the last week, we have observed males of several vibrantly colorful species – yellow warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, and Bullock’s oriole. Just this afternoon, we spotted a female Black-headed grosbeak foraging at the foot of our flowering crab apple. 
It all makes me think I want to focus on planting fruit-bearing shrubs and native grasses rather than on trying to keep the squirrels that squabble over my compost pile out of feeders my target bird species might not even visit.

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