1 May 2017

The cost of backyard bird feeding

From Nine To Noon, 9:37 am on 1 May 2017

New Zealanders' passion for feeding the birds costs not only an awful lot of bread, it is not good for our native birds.

University of Auckland ecologist Josie Galbraith's PhD research has found that we are feeding the equivalent of five million loaves a year to birds.

Her work is one of the first studies in the world to look at the science of bird feeding and the findings have been published in international science journals.

Galbraith says the backyard feeding habit is changing the types of birds we see. 

“A lot of introduced birds coming in for the type of food people are putting out, so sparrows and starlings, because most the food people are putting out is bread and seed-based.”

She says that is not attractive to our native birds, who have a more fruit and nectar-based diet, leaving some gardens swamped with introduced birds.

In the northern hemisphere food is normally out in winter to help birds through the harsher months, but Galbraith says in New Zealand it is a year round activity.

People’s kindness could also be killing the birds, Galbraith says, as bread isn’t a good food for birds. As for feeding our native species, stick to sugar water she says.

But she says people derive great happiness from bird feeding.

“People get a buzz out of it, it makes them happy, it brings them joy and that’s fantastic.

“But they need to think which birds are they feeding.”