Should you feed the birds?
Well, they are wild animals, more than capable of feeding themselves.
Of course, if they fly around and don’t find food they go hungry. If this foraging fail continues for too long they either starve or are too weak to nest and rear chicks. Those that find enough food pass their genes on into the next generation – bog standard natural selection.
The presence of my house and suburb is, of course, a huge disturbance to the natural habitat. It alters the outcome of natural selection drastically favouring those species that like what houses and gardens offer over the resources available in the bush that was there for millennia before westerners.
Feeding the birds is only a tiny blip in this dramatic habitat change. Trees and shrubs to paved roads and gardens is way more important than a few seeds or apple cores on a bird table. Throw in an Indian or a noisy myna bird that come along with the houses and, well, feed all you like, the aggressive mynas will still be there to chase the passerines away.
Feeding the birds is only ever going to affect wild birds at the margins. In time of extreme heat, cold or drought it might keep a few specimens alive a little longer, enough to get through, but this would be the exception not the rule.
So, the reason to feed them is for my benefit.
I get to see them up close and squabble amongst themselves on the feeder. The pecking order between and amongst the species is a fascination as is their choice of the morsels offered. There can be half a dozen brightly coloured specimens parading at any one time. It is quite a sight.
Then the sulphur crested cockatoos glide in and spoil the party. They are big, brash and more than capable of taking a chunk out of the hardwood balustrade when they get bored. I sometimes chase them off which is bizarre given I got them to come over in the first place.
And if I forget to put out a fresh supply of ‘wild bird seed’ the cheeky buggers line up on the outdoor furniture, peering into the house at any movement with a chirp and a forlorn look.
In a pique I refuse to replenish the supply. After a few days the lineup dwindles to nothing and normality is restored until, in a moment of weakness, I put some seeds out again to repeat the cycle.
As you probably gathered I live in Australia. There are conservation minded folk here who dislike, even detest, my bird feeding behaviour. That I should feed birds at all is bad enough, that I do so intermittently borders on the criminal. Wild should be wild they say. What right do I have to cause obesity in lorikeets by feeding them the wrong seeds?
Instead all I need to do is plant some wild bird friendly plants in my garden and enjoy the wild birds from a distance.
Only here is the thing.
Those aforementioned noisy mynas arrived in our yard about 5 years ago. They took up residence en mass and now patrol the airspace chasing away everything but the butcherbird, the kookaburras and the cockatoos. All the smaller species, the treecreepers, whistlers, wagtails, scrubwrens, and the like that I used to marvel at from my office window are nowhere to be seen or heard. They have retreated to safer habitat.
If I planted, it would be like trying to win a battle on the ground without first dealing with superiority in the air. Any bird trying for a feed at the bottlebrush blossom would just be hounded away before they took a sip.
It is actually rather sad. There was once a wonderful distraction when I glanced up from my computer screen toward the gum trees. But not any more.
The only hope is that we have a drought. For then the garden might be attractive enough for more species to brave the myna harassment long enough for me to view them again.
Meantime I will make do with feeding the bigger birds and not feel guilty because the damage is already done by me. Not because I feed the birds, but because I chose to live in a suburb carved out of the bush.