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Feeding Birds: Good For The Soul And Human Well-Being, Says Study

New research explores the positive impact of bird feeding on human well-being and calls for policy considerations.

Feeding birds is good for the soul as well as our feathered friends, suggests a new study.

American researchers are working to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between bird feeding and human well-being.

Professor Ashley Dayer hopes to peck away at the notion that bird feeding is simply for the birds.

Prof. Dayer, of Virginia Tech, is the lead author of an article that argues not only for the acknowledgment of the activity’s benefit to humans, but that it should play a role in public guidance and policy.

“Wildlife agencies and others making decisions on managing bird feeding need to be considering not only what the science is behind what’s going on with birds, but also the science behind what’s going on with people,” she said. 

The article, published in the journal People and Nature, also encourages additional research to better understand how human well-being is impacted by regularly feeding birds.

Prof Dayer and her colleagues are conducting what is believed to be the first large-scale bird feeding research that also incorporates observing humans.

“People are not only reporting what they see at their bird feeders, but also their emotional responses to it. It’s pretty fun because most citizen science projects focus just on the natural or physical science, but we’re now able to look at the human piece of it.” She said.

The four-year project aims to engage more than 10,000 bird feeders across the United States.

Close up photograph of person feeding white pigeon, Jan 26th, 2018. A new study suggests that feeding birds is good for the soul as well as our feathered friends. VALERIA BOLTNEVA/PEXELS

Prof. Dayer said interest in the topic began in 2021, when the researchers noticed state agencies advising people to stop feeding birds in response to various avian disease outbreaks.

After looking into it, they found that 23 states had made such recommendations without evidence it would decrease disease spread, with varying levels of pushback, and with no real method of gauging compliance, much less its impact on people.

Co-author Prof. Dana Hawley says the lack of information about humans related to bird feeding was something she’d not previously considered, and she found it a “strong motivator” for the project.

 “In all my years of studying how bird feeding impacts wild birds, I didn’t give much thought to how it can also impact the people that spend their time and money feeding and watching birds.” She said.

“I get calls every year from people who see a sick bird at their feeder and want to know how they can help prevent disease spread.

“All in all, this made me wonder about how policy decisions that aim to minimize disease spread can inadvertently impact the people who feed the birds.”

The researchers are using Project FeederWatch’s existing network of bird enthusiasts.

Operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada, FeederWatch asks participants to observe and report what they see at their feeders from November to April for the past 37 years.

Close up photograph of person feeding white pigeon, Jan 26th, 2018. A new study suggests that feeding birds is good for the soul as well as our feathered friends. VALERIA BOLTNEVA/PEXELS

“FeederWatch is such a versatile data set even though, at its core, it is based on simple bird counts.” Said Emma Greig, project leader for FeederWatch.

“When you overlay information about behavior, disease, habitat, and climate change with those bird counts, we can get amazing insights into ecology and evolution.”

During the project, FeederWatch participants will also be asked to observe their own well-being.

Prof. Dayer says around 8,000 submissions came in from the first week of the season alone.

She said her mother always made sure they had bird feeders outside their family home, and when she became an “empty nester,” the birds became almost like children.

“She’ll go on vacation and cut the vacation short because she needs to go home and feed her birds, said Prof. Dayer.

“So I’ve lived with someone who was really into bird feeding and have seen how important it can be to them.”

But Prof Dayer believes the positive impact of bird feeding isn’t limited to enthusiasts and is important in proving one of the most widely accessible connections to wildlife.

“People in urban areas can feed birds. People with just a deck can feed birds. People with a wide range of physical abilities can feed birds. “So it’s just a great way to keep that human connection to wildlife.” She said.

Prof Hawley agreed with that sentiment, and said she hopes their work helps advance policies that will foster both healthy and healthy relationships.

“In a world where so many of us live in cities or suburbs, having birds visit feeders in our yards or on our balconies is one of the few ways we get to connect daily with wildlife.” 

“But people want to be able to feed birds in ways that keep wild bird populations healthy and thriving,” she added.

“Our work will ideally help us develop guidelines for bird feeding that minimize risk to wild birds and maximize the benefits to the people that feed them.”


Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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