Should we stop feeding birds during the breeding season?
It appears from this news story published yesterday that feeding birds might not be as good for them as we thought. Could this be another example of how everything we do – however well intentioned – has an effect on wildlife and that effect might well be a negative one?
Anyone who’s been watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight on Channel 4 will have seen how efforts at conservation can have paradoxical outcomes. As he angrily points out, about half of the fish caught by fishermen in the North Sea are thrown back into the ocean.
While nowhere near as perverse as that, the news that a study has found that feeding garden birds might delay the dawn chorus is potentially another example of the negative outcomes of human intervention. (You can read more details about the paper here.)
As the story says:
Birds with access to feeders delayed their song by up to 20 minutes, often beginning only after the sun had risen. This change in behaviour by delaying or even skipping the start of the dawn chorus may have a detrimental effect on how many chicks males sire.
As a result, the researchers argue that we should stop feeding birds at the end of March. Although I should point out no one's suggesting that we shouldn't continue to feed them over winter (read our guide on the best food to feed garden birds or watch Chris Packham's definitive video guide).
Another study from last year appears to add credence to this. Researchers from the University of Birmingham found that tits given food in a woodland during spring and summer have smaller broods. Yes, it's woodland and not urban but it does raise questions.
So are you persuaded by this? Would it make you stop feeding the birds in your garden over spring? One of the joys of bird-feeding is peering out your kitchen window at all the brightly coloured visitors. Would you be prepared to give up this great British tradition?
The Curious Owl, a sideways look at British nature.