Bird feeding is the activity of feeding wild birds.
While birdwatchers seek out birds by species, bird feeders attempt to attract birds to suburban and domestic locations. This requires setting up a feeding station and supplying bird food. The food might include seeds, peanuts, bought food mixes, fat and suet. Additionally, a birdbath and grit (sand) that birds store in their crops to help grind food as an aid to digestion, can be provided.
Certain foods tend to attract certain birds. Finches love niger thistle seed. Jays love corn. Hummingbirds love nectar. Mixed seed attracts many birds. Black oil sunflower seed is favored by many seed-eating species.
Feeding stations should be located near natural cover. Birds prefer not to be exposed. Therefore, putting a bird feeding station by a window will attract only especially gregarious birds (such as sparrows and starlings). While the viewer will want to have a clear line of sight to the feeding station, it is important for the station to be near shrubbery or a tree. If the station is too close to a tree or shrub, pests such as squirrels may find access to the station easy. Locating feeders near low cover gives predators such as cats a hiding place from which to launch an ambush. Birds are messy eaters. If the feeding station is over dirt or a lawn, whole cereals and unshelled sunflower seeds will germinate beneath the station, while shelled nuts and degermed cereals will not.
After the station is established, it can take some weeks for birds to discover and start using it. This is particularly true if the feeding station is the first one in an area or (in cold-winter areas) if the station is being established in spring when natural sources of food are plentiful. Therefore, beginners should not completely fill a feeder at first. The food will get old and spoil if it is left uneaten for too long. This is particularly true of unshelled foods, such as thistle seed and suet. Once the birds begin taking food, the feeder should be kept full. Additionally, people feeding birds should be sure that there is a source of water nearby. A bird bath can attract as many birds as a feeding station.
Generally, bird feeding is environmentally neutral or helpful. However, birds can become dependent on artificial food supplies, and feeding can upset the natural balance between different species. This is especially true of invasive species, such as, in the US, European starlings and Eurasian tree sparrows, which can increase in numbers due to feeding and displace native populations. Some bird feeders therefore attempt to select foods and feeding stations that can discriminate between desired and invasive species. Some species are considered "trash" birds because they are sighted so often. If there is concern about fostering invasive species, it is best to feed during winter, when birds most need food, to taper feeding activity in spring, and to increase again in fall, when fledging will have taken place and local populations will be higher.
Different feeders can be purchased specialized for different species. Persons living on migration routes should especially feed during the migration times (which may be year-round), as feeding will not be likely to artificially promote local populations. During spring feeders make up less than 25% of a birds diet but during winter months the birds will turn to the feeder which they have come to know as a dependable food source.
When bird feeding, be sure to take hygiene and safety precautions, as the unnatural situation of having large numbers of birds congregating in one area can lead to transmission of infectious diseases. Clean all feeding stations regularly and wash away all droppings. Wear rubber gloves when undertaking these tasks to avoid contact with bacteria and viruses that may be present in bird droppings. Other safety precautions involve not feeding whole peanuts or unsoaked dried fruit during the breeding season as this can be dangerous to nestlings, and never using net bags to feed birds, as birds may die as a result of their feet or tongues getting trapped.
Large sums of money are spent by ardent bird feeders, who indulge their wild birds with a variety of wild bird seeds, suets, nectars (for hummingbirds), and special flower plantings. Bird feeding is regarded as the first or second most popular pastime in the USA. Some fifty-five million Americans are involved in bird feeding. The activity has spawned an industry that sells birdseed, birdfeeders, birdhouses (nesting boxes), mounting poles, squirrel baffles, binoculars, etc.
The ten commonest birds reported in U.S. gardens are, in descending order:
- Northern Cardinal
- House Finch
- (from the 2005 Great Backyard Bird Count)
The ten commonest birds in British gardens are, in descending order:
- House Sparrow
- (from the 2006 RSPB Garden Birdwatch. See also the RSPB's list of the twenty commonenst garden birds)
In some cities or parts of cities (e.g. Trafalgar Square in London) feeding certain birds is forbidden, either because they compete with vulnerable native species, or because they abound and cause pollution and/or noise.