Have you ever wondered whether it is good to feed the wild birds? Be aware that they belong to a wild environment and that nature has provided them with the means to get food. Aren’t we spoiling them by lessening their survival instinct? Wouldn’t we be favouring some species by artificially increasing them in number while being detrimental to others?

We can distinguish three different kinds of situations in which birds get supplementary feeding from humans:

  1. When they are fed to favour their survival or expansion.
  2. When they are fed with a lucrative goal.
  3. When men involuntarily leave food available for them.

The first case is produced when a well-meaning person places a food dispenser in their garden to help birds through the winter, or when a supplementary feeding program is established as the means to favour the reproductive success of endangered species and thus contribute to their territorial expansion.

An example of supplementary feeding in the Willow Tit (Poecile montanus)

Birds can also be fed with a lucrative goal, for example, when they are fattened to make them go to a specific place where a photographer is hiding and waiting for them.

There is also supplementary feeding when food or waste are left available to the birds, for instance in rubbish dumps where residues are outdoors or in non-covered containers in the cities.

Supplementary feeding plans are generally carried out by the public administrations, and they are usually supported by scientific researches. However, there is a risk of miscalculation than can produce a lack of balance among the fauna. A specific species can be extremely favoured, while a rival species might be severely damaged.

Another example of supplementary feeding that favours the expansion of a given species can be found in the cities. Well-meaning people feed the pigeons without taking into account that the species is totally adapted to the urban environment and can find food by its own means. Most of this people do not know that the female Rock Dove has 6 broods a year, and that in each of them about 12 squabs are born. If it succeeds to support all its squabs, due to the supplementary feeding and the extinction of its natural predators, we will be facing 72 new pigeons for each female specimen in just a year, which constitutes an obvious pest risk.

In order to get a good picture of a bird of prey, photographers usually go to the so called hides, which are hiding places camouflaged with the environment, from which they can take short-distance shots with the help of a bait. In order to make the birds come to the hide on a regular basis, they are supplied with food every second or third day. This kind of feeding can harm the species, for it makes them change their habits and young specimens would have it harder to find food when they are ejected by the adults and need to colonise new territories.

An example of supplementary feeding in the Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

In many cities, the collecting and treatment of waste system doesn’t take into account that birds can use the urban waste to get food, and thus no measures to avoid it are taken. The amount of food that is left available to birds is huge, provoking important behavioural changes that can affect very extensive regions. We can find an example of this in the Yellow-legged Gull, which is colonising territories far away from the cost in centre Europe and massively increasing its population. Another example is the migratory behaviour changes of some species, as the White Stork, which may stop emigrating to Africa due to the food availability during the winter in the rubbish dumps. In those, birds not only get food, but they are also exposed to dangers like the consumption of toxic products, plastics and other dangerous materials. In some cases, the young die when they get trapped in the strings and plastics that their parents used to make the nest.

We have enlightened the existing controversy about bird supplementary feeding. Some people have the opinion that it implies unnecessary risks that shouldn’t be accepted, and some people think that the problems derived from supplementary feeding are minimal. What do you think about it?

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