When vegetation is removed for urban development, there is a dramatic loss of habitat for wild species, making it more difficult for urban dwellers to interact with wildlife.
Studies show that a lack of connection with nature can lead to anxiety and depression in urban people. Birds are one of the most accessible and aesthetically appealing connection points. Therefore, thriving bird communities in cities can have a positive impact on people’s health and well-being.
Bird feeding is popular in Aotearoa. About half of New Zealand households feed their birds in the garden, primarily bread and seeds. Unfortunately, this mainly attracts introduced grain-eating species such as house sparrows, starlings, blackbirds and spotted pigeons. are likely to compete with each other for space and habitat.
attracts nectar-eating birds
Sugar water serves as an alternative supplement for nectar-sipping birds such as tūī, korimako/bellbirds, and tauhou/silvereye. It is likely to benefit native birds during the winter months when nectar is scarce, making a successful breeding season more likely in the spring.
However, there are concerns that sugar feeding can lead to pathogen accumulation, causing health problems and making birds dependent on supplementary feeding. It can reduce pollination and seed dispersal, putting birds at risk of predation.
Our study is the first in New Zealand to determine how sugar water feeding affects backyard bird communities. and surveyed their overall physical health.
Using proper feeders
We analyzed 990 responses from an online survey across New Zealand to explore current sugar water feeding practices. A notable aspect was the type of feeder.
Feeders specifically designed for nectar-eating species were successful in attracting native species, but non-specific feeders (open dishes or simple containers) also attracted introduced birds.
Feeders designed for nectar feeders require birds to push aside guards with their narrow beaks and stick their tongues under the cover of the feeder to drink sugar water. Introduced birds (not nectar-eating experts) do not have the correct tongue or beak, or behavior to do so, and are precluded from using these feeders.
Next, we examined how season affects foraging behavior and aggression in birds. In winter, birds visited feeding stations more frequently, spent more time looking for food, and were more aggressive towards other birds using the feeders. It has been suggested that winter feeding helps survival when the
We also observed Auckland twee in the winter in our backyards and experimentally added feeders with either low concentration (0.5 cups of sugar per liter of water) or high concentration (1 cup/liter). Tūī spent time foraging in low-concentration feeders, but was more aggressive in high-concentration feeders.
This suggests that birds must eat low-calorie solutions longer for energy, while high-calorie sugar water is a fiercely guarded and valuable source. did not change the total number of backyard birds.
Finally, we evaluated how the presence of sugar water feeders, season and climate affected bird body condition and disease prevalence. Similar to previous overseas studies, individuals were in better physical condition in the unfed garden than in the fed one.
However, in feeder yards, birds thrived in Oakland (warm weather), summer (warm temperatures), and feeders with high sugar content (high calories).
Feeding sugar water increases the risk of coccidia infection, which can lead to loss of pigmentation, diarrhea, and even death in birds. Fortunately, our screening did not detect Salmonella in individuals or at feeding stations.
However, in a similar study of Auckland backyard feeding with bread and seeds, 7% of the birds at the feeding station were positive for salmonella. This suggests that birds such as sparrows that visit simple designed feeders accessible to most birds contribute to the risk of pathogen transmission to nectar-eating birds and possibly humans.
Recommended Bird Feeding Guidelines
Based on our research, we make some recommendations.
- Bread and seeds should not be fed to birds. Because this only encourages very abundant alien species.
Select commercial sugar water feeders designed for native birds (Tui Nectar Feeder, Topflite Nectar Nutra Feeder, PekaPeka) rather than using open dishes to exclude introduced bird species.
Give sugar water only in winter and stop feeding in spring and summer
In winter, use about 1 cup of sugar per liter of water. This is because this sugar concentration indicates that the birds are in better physical condition than the low-sugar solution.
Scrub all structures used for feeding with boiling water at least twice a week to minimize the risk of bird disease outbreaks
Mount feeders on tall posts away from trees and fences to minimize the chance of predation by cats.
Providing supplemental food for birds is an affordable and attractive way to interact with wildlife. However, it is important to note that supplemental feeding alone is not the answer to urban bird populations.
The long-term answer is to transform our backyards and city parks into bird-friendly habitats. provide shelter and nesting grounds.
A clean water bath is helpful during prolonged summer droughts. But perhaps most importantly, backyard pest control of rodents, possums and hedgehogs is essential if you want to increase the number and diversity of native birds in a way that benefits both birds and humans.
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Quote: How to Feed Birds in Your Garden If You Want to Attract and Support Native Species (January 5, 2023)
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