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The study shows that people who feed birds affect nature conservation



A dark-eyed junco, an American goldfinch, and a house finch feed on sunflower seeds on a snowy day. Birdwatchers report that cold weather affects more than time or money, how much they feed birds. Picture credits: Cynthia Raught, Virginia Tech

People in many parts of the world feed birds in their backyards, often because of their desire to help the wildlife or to connect with nature. In the United States alone, more than 57 million homes in backyard birds spend more than $ 4 billion on birdseed.

While researchers know that feeding birds can affect nature, they do not know how to influence the people feeding them.

"Because so many people are so keen on luring birds into their backyard, we were interested in how much natural change they observe in their feeders, are simply more birds," said Ashley Dayer, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Health Protection of fish and wildlife at the College of Natural Resources and Virginia Tech area. "Specifically, we wanted to know how they responded to their observations, how do they feel when they see sick birds on their feeders, and what action do they take to respond to those observations?"

Researcher Ashley Dayer and Dana Hawley of Virginia Tech recently published their findings in People and Nature a new journal of 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 people who feed birds perceive and respond to natural events in their feeders by working with Project FeederWatch, a program managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which employs more than 25,000 people of data about their backyard birds.

A birdwatcher fills the feeders in their backyard. Here she will observe birds and other natural phenomena to which her feeding can contribute. Picture credits: L. Williams, Virginia Tech

In a survey of 1,176 people feeding birds and recording their observations of birds in the Project FeederWatch database, the researchers found that most people noticed natural changes in their backyards, possibly caused by feeding including an increase in the number of birds at their feed stores, a cat or hawk near their feed dispenser or a sick bird at their feed dispenser.

"More and more people are seeing that humans interact less with nature and that more of our species are restricted to these animals. Areas where people live nearby. A look at the behavior and management of wildlife in their own Backyards are very important for the future of wildlife conservation and for understanding human wellbeing, as the opportunities for people to interact with wildlife are fewer and fewer backyard settings, "said Hawley, an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences of the College of Science. Hawley's research program at Virginia Tech focuses on the ecology and evolution of wildlife diseases.

"In 17 years of working with people who feed birds as part of Citizen Science projects, I've heard a lot about their impressive observations on their feeders," said co-author David Bonter, director of Citizen Science at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "This study provides important information about the breadth and pattern of these experiences from responses from over 1,000 participants, and the results will help us at Project Feederwatch to improve our collaboration with birdwatchers on our common goal of protecting birds."

The people Birds that feed birds also responded, in particular to cats on their predators, by scaring cats, moving feeding troughs, or sheltering birds. When observing sick birds, most people have cleaned their feeders. When observing more birds, people often responded with more food. Fewer people responded to seeing hawks. The most common answer was to provide protection to the fowl. These human reactions have in some cases been tied to people's emotions about their observations, especially anger. While cats were most likely to cause anger near feed, sick birds led to grief or worry. Emotions in response to hawks were more diverse.

"Feeding wild birds is a deceptively routine activity, yet it is one of the most intimate, private and potentially profound forms of human interaction with nature, a perceptual study that reveals some of the remarkable depth associated with feeding birds and recognizes that people feeding birds are aware of a host of other natural phenomena, "said Darryl Jones, a professor at the Environmental Futures Research Institute and the School of Environment and Sciences at Griffith University in Australia. Who was not involved in the study?

A surprising finding that the researchers found in this study was that, in deciding how much they feed birds, humans gave more priority than time and money to natural factors such as cold weather. Most people believed that the effects of feeding them on wild birds are good, especially for birds, although many responded to natural events in their backyard and responded to what could affect the health of the birds and partly result from their feeding. 19659005] "Overall, our findings suggest that people who feed birds observe aspects of nature and respond in ways that may affect the feeding of wild birds, and further efforts are needed to address the positive and negative effects of feeding fully understanding of wild birds, including the people feeding them, "said Dayer, whose research focuses on the human dimensions of nature conservation, using social science to understand human behavior related to wildlife.


Explore further:
Remember the health and safety of birds when managing birdseeds

Further information:
Ashley A. Dayer et al., Observations on backyard bird feeders affect the emotions and actions of people feeding birds People and Nature (2019). DOI: 10.1002 / pan3.17

Provided by:
Virginia tech


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