Excessive Feeding of Birds By Annemieke Kregting Kuaotunu Bird Rescue Trust Of course it is of concern of us because we see the results in the birds that come to us - poor nutrition but mainly metabolic bone disease, infectious diseases and parasites passed on from bird to bird in large gatherings. A recent article from Ian McLean, Ornithologist and Auckland regional representative for Birds NZ explained what can go wrong when well meaning people feed wild birds on their lawn every day. He has asked that we share, and bring awareness of, this increasing problem. Salmonella, the unseen killer at bird feeders Recently, on social media, people have posted pictures of dead or sick birds in their garden. In one of these posts, there was a photo of two, apparently healthy, tauhou/silvereyes found dead under an olive tree. They appeared uninjured, although they had fluffed up feathers. The photographer had often found dead tauhou/silvereyes before and asked why this may have happened ? He received many replies, but very few focused on the cause of death, the vast majority of replies advocating feeding birds. Few people even considered that feeding birds combined with poor hygiene, has likely killed these birds. Fluffed up feathers are a common feature of birds with salmonella and diseases like chlamida. Bird poo, in and around food, can cause salmonella infections and intestinal parasites. Salmonella is an absolute killer of birds, but those birds affected do not drop dead around your feeder; they die unseen under bushes hundreds of metres away. For many, there is an unawareness about the need to clean bird feeders and reduce or stop feeding birds. Daily cleaning of bird feeders is an essential, but unfortunately daily cleaning is not a normal practice for many. As you can appreciate that is really poor; can you imagine eating your dinner off the same uncleaned plate for a week! What is clear is that bird feeding is becoming very popular and it is a large multi-million dollar industry. This is not an attack on bird feeding, but rather a reminder that it needs to be done in moderation and hygienically. Some quick points regarding bird feeding are:- Sugar water feeders should be cleaned every day with hot water and basically, if you are not prepared to do that, you shouldn’t be feeding birds. Do not use open feeding dishes, as they rapidly (sometimes within minutes) get bird poo in them. Bird poo in the food can rapidly create a problem with both salmonella and intestinal parasites. Even large gatherings of birds on the lawn will have the same issues. Bread is absolute junk food for birds. It’s full of carbohydrates, yeast and sugars and should never be fed to them. Bread, seeds and scraps only attract problematic house sparrows, common mynas, feral pigeons and mallard ducks. Frankly, we don’t need any more of those super abundant species. Birds are more than capable of finding their own food and daily feeding is not required. Birds do not need to be fed more in winter and the winter weather in this country is not that harsh. As an example, tui, korimako/bellbird and tauhou/silvereye all live on the subantarctic Auckland Islands and survive naturally without any food from people whatsoever. Mass concentrations of birds around feeders cause aggression. Certain species, like sparrows, common blackbirds, doves, pigeons, and mynas dominate the feeder (depending on what you are feeding), whilst our native insect and nectar eaters are pushed out of the garden by these more aggressive species.
Feed only natural foods. Tauhou/silvereye do not scavenge the carcasses of dead animals, so why would you feed them rancid balls of fat? Also note that commercially made energy logs and energy cakes are a made-for-profit human invention that are nothing like natural bird foods. Congregations of 10 tui or 40 tauhou/silvereye around one feeding receptacle might seem great, but it is a completely unnatural situation. It does not compare to 10 tui in a large kowhai tree taking nectar from 5,000 individual flowers. An issue with unnatural congregations of birds is that it is a sure way to increase the spread of viruses like avian pox. Rather than putting out bird seed, plant trees, shrubs and flowers, a layered mix of ground covers, shrubs and trees in your garden can provide insects, nectar, fruit, seeds and shelter for many species of birds. These include the insect eating grey warblers, fantails, welcome swallows and shining cuckoos that are ignored and even disadvantaged by other species when you feed seed and sugar water in your garden. Install a bird bath in your garden. This is great for the birds, whilst it provides you an excellent opportunity to view them without the bird versus bird aggression, associated with bird feeders. As a parent, I avoided giving junkfood and sugary drinks to my children so why do we think it’s good for our birds? It’s very addictive and damaging. They come back each day, not because they are hungry, but they choose an easy meal and then don’t need to go out foraging themselves. And all that time, large flocks of birds are pooping on your roof. Not such a good thing if you collect rainwater. Salmonella and E.coli infections can be passed on to us from regular visitors like sparrows, thrushes blackbirds and doves. "Would you like to help, please visit our website" Kubirdrescue@gmail.com Kuaotunu Bird Rescue Trust or www.kuaotunubirdrescue.org.nz