Feeding wild birds – do you? Should you?

To feed or not to feed? Archive Photo of the Day 12/27/09: Gene Banker, Ellenburg NY.

To feed or not to feed? Archive Photo of the Day 12/27/09: Gene Banker, Ellenburg NY.

Has anyone ever settled the age-old debate over feeding wild birds? You know the divide I’m talking about, you may have a firm opinion yourself.

One faction says feeding wild birds is harmless, even good. The other holds that it’s a bad practice. Obviously, it’s fun for the humans. But nay-sayers maintain it’s unhelpful or dangerous for the wildlife attracted – creatures may become dependent, throwing natural cause and effect cycles off-kilter. Neglected bird feeders are implicated in the spread of disease too.

As reported by Tom Spears for the Ottawa Citizen, that argument has come to Quebec’s scenic Gatineau Park, which has stopped keeping bird feeders that were very popular with winter skiers and snowshoers.

It’s an old issue in wilderness-style parks: Where to draw the line between preserving nature and giving visitors a good experience.

Tony Bull, a retired Parks Canada manager, has been skiing in the park for years and was upset when the feeders came down.

“I think they just added a lot of life to the experience of skiing. You would stop and look at the birds and then you’d go on,” he said.

“The forest is alive with birds and of course squirrels feeding underneath from the dropped seeds.

“I’ve skied a couple of times (since the feeders were removed) and it’s just dead. No squirrels, no birds, it’s just a dead landscape and I think it’s a shame.”

Beyond the Gatineau Park debate, there’s a real mix of opinions and technical advice out there. Here’s something from the UK listing several benefits of feeding wild birds, which cautions such feeding should be consistant – don’t feed for half a winter and then suddenly stop.

What’s your take on the topic?

If you’d like to read more about it, the ever-useful Cornell Lab of Ornithology has this handy informational site.

A bird feeder at Huron Cabin in Gatineau Park. Photo: Craig Miller

Bird feeders in Gatineau Park were popular with wildlife and skiers. Photo: Craig Miller

Owl and bird feeder at Huron Cabin. Photo: Craig Miller

An owl watches the action at Huron Cabin. Photo: Craig Miller

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2 Responses to “Feeding wild birds – do you? Should you?”

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  1. Michael Greer says:

    We enjoy our feeders. They serve almost as a calendar with the visitors changing through the season, and with the weather. When the snows get too deep, the hawks come in from the countryside to look for some easier prey….pigeons are a favorite of the red-tail hawk, and it’s really a treat to see one so close.
    I don’t know how many bird feeders it would take to create a negative affect, but there’s only one on my block and it seems like we’re surrounded by an tremendous lot of natural landscape where nature follows it’s own rules.

  2. Michael Greer says:

    Perhaps some perspective is needed. Compared to all the other things humans do, like building skyscrapers, spreading salt on highways, digging shale oil, or spraying a zillion acres of countryside with Roundup; I think bird-feeders hardly count.