Should we feed the birds?

This wildlife friendly information is based on our experiences, other organisations both here and overseas, and research. We hope you find the information useful and it helps to answer any questions you may have.

We don't think so.....

As wildlife rehabilitators we often come across well-intentioned people who, because of their appreciation of and the pleasure they get from our native wildlife, feed the wildlife that visits their properties.

Most people are not aware, however, that by feeding wildlife we could be causing damage to our fragile environment.

The nutritional requirements of all wildlife is so complex that we could never feed exactly what is required to keep the them healthy for the long term. Even as wildlife rehabilitators we can have difficulty establishing the correct diets when caring for sick, injured or orphaned wildlife.

We should be especially careful about feeding birds during the spring and summer months as this is breeding season and most of the chicks have hatched and are being fed by parent birds. They need the correct diet in order to grow properly.

Feeding birds can inadvertently cause problems:

  • Creating an environment where birds become reliant on the food and young birds grow up thinking that this is a normal source of food – not learning the skills needed to forage for food themselves.

  • Creating a false food environment will encourage some birds to breed well e.g. the Feral Pigeon which is now regarded as a pest

  • Birds become unafraid of people and can this can make them vulnerable to abuse.

  • Spreading bird diseases, either bird to bird or bird to human – some of which are highly contagious and lethal.

Sometimes it is appropriate to give wildlife a helping hand with food and water, for example during a prolonged dry spell or if weather patterns have affected natural food sources. If you do put out food and water disinfect the containers and surfaces frequently before re-filling. Also do your homework – find out what birds you are feeding. The birds need to be fed food that is nutritious and is not just going to fill them up and stop them looking for food that they really require!

And remember once their natural food source is back to normal STOP FEEDING you do not want the birds to become reliant on your help.

BREAD – is a definite NO NO!

  • Bread has poor nutritional value, it will cause deficiencies and predisposing birds to disease and deformities. For example badly deformed wings and legs can be caused by a calcium deficiency. ‘Angel wing’ is common in birds at the local ponds.

  • Reduction in calcium levels can cause softer egg shells and this would affect the fertility rates of birds

  • Rise in bacteria levels in waterways – as uneaten bread settles to the bottom of ponds and rots contaminating the water.

  • Bread can ferment in the gut causing bacterial infections as well as gum infections.

  • Bread is not even suitable for grain-eating animals such as parrots which require more complex diets.

Don’t feed wild bird seed

  • These are rarely nutritionally balanced

  • Encourages birds to rely on the oiler seeds such as sunflower seeds—this can result on long-term fatty growths and obesity

  • Many birds attracted to such seed mix are not even seed eaters—some are honeyeaters. Their digestive systems are designed for liquid intake and grains may actually cause damage to their sensitive tongues with which they collect nectare.g. Silvereyes

  • Of major concern are communal feeding trays as these can be responsible for the spread of disease. A disease we are seeing more and more of is Avian Pox; this is a virus that is spread by body fluids

Minced meat- a poor substitute

  • Bled meat contains too much phosphorous and too little calcium, producing nutritional imbalances and severe deficiencies, which can cause beak and bone deformity in certain birds

  • It’s a poor substitute to the varied diets of insects, worms, mice and small mammals that birds eat in the wild

Upsetting Natures Balance

  • With a regular food supply, nomadic birds become sedentary, the amount of exercise they get being reduced and the variety of their diet decreasing. As a result, nomadic birds may breed out of season and cause localised over-population

  • Becoming dependent upon humans for food, there is also the fear that birds will lose the ability to forage and find food themselves

  • Feeding attracts bigger birds thus deterring smaller birds. Worse, smaller species are preyed upon all year round. Also a decline in smaller birds is caused through over-crowding of nesting sites and competition for insects

  • Some birds can become aggressive towards people as they become unafraid and come to expect their daily feed

  • You may love the birds and enjoy having them up close not everyone feels the same way. You could be endangering the bird’s lives by encouraging them to visit or come close. They begin to think all humans are friendly, and we so often see birds with injuries inflicted by people