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A bird table, with a Wood Pigeon on the roof, in an English garden. The table provides water, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and a seed mix.

Bird feeding is the activity of feeding wild birds, often by means of a bird feeder.



James Fisher noted that the first person recorded as feeding wild birds was the sixth century monk Saint Serf of Fife who tamed a robin by feeding it. In the harsh winter of 1890-91 in Britain national newspapers asked people to put out food for birds. In 1910 in the United Kingdom, Punch magazine declared that feeding birds was a "national pastime."[1]


Bird feeding is typically thought of as an activity of bird enthusiasts. People who feed wild birds often attempt to attract birds to suburban and domestic locations. This requires setting up a feeding station and supplying bird food. The food might include seeds, peanuts, bought food mixes, fat, kitchen scraps and suet. Additionally, a bird bath and grit (sand), that birds store in their crops to help grind food as an aid to digestion, can be provided.

Feeding bread to waterfowl at parks, lakes and rivers is also a popular activity.


Certain foods tend to attract certain birds.[2] Finches love niger (incorrectly called thistle) seed. Jays love corn. Hummingbirds love nectar. Mixed seed attracts many birds. Black oil sunflower seed is favored by many seed-eating species. Different feeders can be purchased specialized for different species.

Feeding stations should be located near natural cover. Many birds prefer not to be exposed. Therefore, putting a bird feeding station by a window will attract only especially gregarious birds (such as sparrows and starlings). While the viewer will want to have a clear line of sight to the feeding station, it is important for the station to be near shrubbery or a tree. If the station is too close to a tree or shrub, other animals (such as squirrels) may find access to the station easy. Locating feeders near low cover gives predators such as house cats a hiding place from which to launch an ambush.

After the station is established, it can take some weeks for birds to discover and start using it. This is particularly true if the feeding station is the first one in an area or (in cold-winter areas) if the station is being established in spring when natural sources of food are plentiful. Therefore, beginners should not completely fill a feeder at first. The food will get old and spoil if it is left uneaten for too long. This is particularly true of unshelled foods, such as thistle seed and suet. Once the birds begin taking food, the feeder should be kept full. Additionally, people feeding birds should be sure that there is a source of water nearby. A bird bath can attract as many birds as a feeding station.

Birds are messy eaters. If the feeding station is over dirt or a lawn, whole cereals and unshelled sunflower seeds will germinate beneath the station, while shelled nuts and degermed cereals will not. Food scattered on the ground beneath the feeding station may also attract rats and mice.


A study conducted in the city of Sheffield, UK, found that the abundance of garden birds increased with levels of bird feeding. This effect was only apparent in those species that regularly take supplementary food, raising the possibility that bird feeding was having a direct effect on bird abundance. In contrast, the density of feeding stations had no effect on the number of different bird species present in a neighbourhood[3].

The use of bird feeders has been claimed to cause environmental problems; some of these were highlighted in a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal. [4]

Prior to the publication of the Wall Street Journal article, Canadian ornithologist Jason Rogers also wrote about the environmental problems associated with the use of bird feeders in the journal Alberta Naturalist.

During spring, feeders make up less than 25% of a bird's diet but during winter months the birds will return to the feeder which they have come to know as a dependable food source.


Large sums of money are spent by ardent bird feeders, who indulge their wild birds with a variety of wild bird seeds, suets, nectars, and special flower plantings. Bird feeding is regarded as the first or second most popular pastime in the United States.[citation needed] Some fifty-five million Americans are involved in bird feeding. The activity has spawned an industry that sells supplies and equipment including birdseed, bird feeders, birdhouses (nesting boxes), mounting poles, squirrel baffles, and binoculars.

Common sightings

Birds who are fed may come very close to humans
Feeding the Feral Pigeons

The ten most common birds reported in U.S. gardens are, in descending order:

(from the 2005 Great Backyard Bird Count)

The ten most common birds in British gardens are, in descending order:

(from the 2006 RSPB Garden Birdwatch. See also the RSPB's list of the twenty commonest garden birds)

Other common birds include:

In some cities or parts of cities (e.g. Trafalgar Square in London) feeding pigeons is forbidden, either because they compete with vulnerable native species, or because they abound and cause pollution and/or noise.


  1. ^ Moss, Stephen 2004 A bird in the bush. Aurum Press. p 102-103
  2. ^ "Which Bird Seeds are Best?" from National Wildlife Magazine 1/31/2010
  3. ^ Fuller, R.A., Warren, P.H., Armsworth, P.R., Barbosa, O. & Gaston, K.J. 2008. Garden bird feeding predicts the structure of urban avian assemblages. Diversity & Distributions 14, 131–137. DOI:10.1111/j.1472-4642.2007.00439.x
  4. ^ Sterba, James B. "Crying Fowl: Feeding Wild Birds May Harm Them and Environment", Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2002.

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