Study reveals that people who feed birds have an impact on conservation

A dark-eyed junco, a goldfinch and a finch feed on sunflower seeds on a snowy day. Bird watchers report that cold weather influences their diet, more than time or money. Credit: Cynthia Raught, Virginia Tech

In many parts of the world, birds feed the birds in their back yard, often out of desire to help wildlife or to get closer to nature. In the United States alone, more than 57 million households are devoted to backyard birds, spending more than $ 4 billion a year on bird food.

Researchers know that bird feeding can affect nature, but they do not know how it affects the people who feed these birds.

"Because so many people are so invested in choosing birds in their gardens, we are interested in the natural changes they observe beyond the mere multiplication of birds," said Ashley Dayer, Assistant Professor in the Department. Wildlife Conservation and Fish Conservation at the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment. "In particular, we wanted to know how they react to their observations, for example, how do they feel when they see sick birds near their feeders and what steps do they take to correct those sightings?"

Researchers Ashley Dayer and Dana Hawley of Virginia Tech recently published their findings in People and nature, a new journal published by the British Ecological Society.

The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia.

The researchers analyzed how bird-feeding people notice and react to natural events by collaborating with Project FeederWatch, a program run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which involves more than 25,000 people observing and collecting data on their backyard birds.

An amateur ornithologist fills the feeders in his yard. Here she will observe birds and other natural events to which she could contribute. Credit: L. Williams, Virginia Tech

Using a survey of 1,176 people who feed birds and record their observations in the Project FeederWatch database, the researchers found that most people noticed natural changes in their backyard that may be due to 39, diet, including an increase in the number of birds. at their manger, a cat or hawk near their manger, or a sick bird at their manger.

"More and more, we see that humans are interacting less with nature and that more and more of our wildlife is confined to areas where there are humans.Watch how humans react and manage wildlife in their own right. yard is very important for the future of wildlife conservation and understanding of human well-being, as the possibilities of interaction with the fauna and flora become more and more restricted to the backyard said Hawley, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the College of Science. Hawley's research program at Virginia Tech focuses on the ecology and evolution of wildlife diseases.

"During my 17 years working with people who feed birds as part of citizen science projects, I've heard a lot about their hard-hitting remarks about their feeders," said David Bonter, co-author , director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "This study provides important insights into the scale and pattern of these experiments through responses from over 1,000 participants.The findings will help Project Feederwatch to improve our collaboration with birdwatchers in order to To achieve our common goal of bird conservation. "

People who feed the birds have also reacted, such as cats near their feeders, frightening them, moving feeders or providing shelter for birds. When they watched sick birds, most people cleaned their feeders. When they observed more birds, people often reacted by providing more food. Fewer people acted on seeing hawks; the most common response to this has been to provide shelter for feeder birds. These human responses were, in some cases, related to the emotions felt by people about their observations, especially their anger. While the cats near the feeders most often evoked anger, the sick birds were sad or worried. The emotions aroused by hawks were more varied.

"Feeding wild birds is a deceptively banal activity, yet it is one of the most intimate, private and potentially profound interactions with nature." This insightful study reveals some of the remarkable depth associated with feeding Birds and allows discerning fodder birds are alert to a wide range of additional natural phenomena, "said Darryl Jones, professor at the Institute for Research on the Future of the Environment and at the Faculty of Environment and Science Griffith University in Australia, which was not associated with the study.

The researchers found in this study a surprising result: when deciding how much to feed birds, people prioritized natural factors, such as cold, rather than time and money. . Most people thought that the effects of their diet on wild birds were mostly beneficial to birds, although many observed and acted in response to natural events in their garden that could affect the health of the birds and could result partly from their diet.

"Overall, our findings suggest that people who feed birds observe aspects of nature and react in ways that may affect the feeding outcomes of wild birds." Additional work is needed to fully understand the positive and negative effects feeding on wild birds and hence the people who feed them, "said Dayer, whose research focuses on the human dimensions of wildlife conservation, applying the social sciences to understanding behavior human related to wildlife.

Explore further:
When managing bird feeders, consider the health and safety of birds

More information:
Ashley A. Dayer et al, Observations in Backyard Feeders Influence the Emotions and Actions of People Who Feed Birds, People and nature (2019). DOI: 10.1002 / pan3.17

Provided by:
Virginia Tech

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