It has become more common for people to pay attention to what is in their food, but sometimes we forget that health consciousness extends beyond ourselves. As bird feeding is expanding from a mere hobby to a wide-spread citizen science activity, it is important for people to know what they are providing to wildlife and how it affects the ecosystem.
When providing animals with food, we as humans tend to take the role as detached benefactor. We’ll feed them, but since they are not human, they don’t have refined tastes and we can feed them pretty much anything. Scraps are fine; food on the edge of going bad is acceptable, and cheaper is better - they won’t know the difference.
Whether or not animals have preferences for certain foods and whether these should be honored is not the point of this argument. What should be considered is this; animals have health needs as well, and scraps from a human diet are not usually ideal for the constitution of birds.
Refined sugars are becoming less accepted in society, but they are still a major part of most people’s diets. They are hidden in breads, drinks, and all sorts of other foods. By carelessly throwing bread scraps at the birds, you are exposing them to items that aren’t even good for humans, let alone animal digestive systems that aren’t used to processing them.
One exception to this rule is hummingbirds. The sugar in flower nectar is the same type that is in our common sugar. So filling your hummingbird feeders with homemade sugar syrup concoctions is still an accepted practice.
Preservatives are another evil of the human diet that should not be passed to the animal kingdom. They are not easily digested, and can hinder nutrients being absorbed. On a similar line, if food is going bad, it is just as likely to pass on bacteria to birds as humans. You can do some research into what foods might break down ok in birds’ stomachs, but if it’s “people-food”, you’ll probably want to stay away anyway.
When it comes to food that is meant for the birds, manufacturers aren’t always as honest about ingredients as they should be. Some feed mixtures include grains that are not easily digested by some species. This is done because those seeds and grains are cheaper and last longer.
During the last year, a lot has been learned about companies like Scotts Miracle Gro putting pesticides and other harmful chemicals in their seed mixtures. These chemicals are known to be harmful toward birds, but the companies will include them as long as they can get away with it, because it helps the product last longer and keeps pests away.
Because of all these concerns, it is more important than ever that you pay attention to what is in the products that you provide for wildlife. Check out organic and natural bird seed mixes, or look into what variety the wild bird species that visit your lawn like and provide your own. Grains and seeds can often be bought in bulk and are easily mixed after the fact. Be sure that you store them safely so that they are safe from pests and mold.
Bird Feeding is a great hobby that helps you commune with nature and learn about wildlife. It can offer some great photo opportunities and if done right, can help your local ecosystem flourish. Wildlife activity is great for any environment. So make sure you take care of your feathered friends correctly, and you’ll be sure to be repaid tenfold.