Providing food for garden birds is an important activity for large numbers of people across Australia and is a significant connection to nature. In fact, attracting birds by the provision of food is probably the most widespread and popular form of human-wildlife interaction throughout the world. Here in Australia, however, remarkably little is known about this practice and this lack of reliable knowledge is becoming increasingly important.
There is a long history and practice of feeding birds in the Northern Hemisphere that started as a humane response to the plight of hungry birds during winter. In particular, a series of severely cold winters during the early 20th century along with urban development resulted in thousands of birds freezing to death and the sight of their bodies littering the streets resulted in impetus to mass “outreach to the birds”. Today it is estimated that 34-75% of households in the USA and UK are engaged in garden bird feeding. Perhaps surprisingly, despite the opposition to the practice, around 38-57% of Australians provide food for birds.
In the words of Prof Darryl Jones, people who feed birds have largely operated as free agents though many are aware of the apparent stigma of their hobby yet they remain passionately committed to their birds anyway. People who feed birds want to do best by them but there is a lack of any real information regarding the effects of bird feeding.
Almost everything known about bird feeding in the Northern Hemisphere does not apply to the practice in Australia. Here in Australia concerns about the implication and effects of feeding has resulted in an unofficial opposition to the practice. This is not good enough, as the well-known stance is based on relatively little information and also tends to underestimate the considerable complexity of this multidimensional phenomenon.
The Australian Bird Feeding and Watering Study (2014-2017) was developed to help understand why people feed birds, what food do they feed and what bird take the food. To further understand the impacts of bird feeding, participants gave details of their gardens in terms of native plants versus introduced plants, vegetation structure, pet ownership as well as demographic data.