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Exploring the motivations for garden bird feeding in south-east England


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The feeding of wild birds in domestic gardens is one of the most widespread and popular forms of human-wildlife interaction throughout the Western World. The increasing recognition of the benefits to human health and well-being of contact with nature, especially in an increasingly urbanized world, reveals the need for a greater understanding of why we engage in bird feeding. This will undoubtedly result in enhanced benefits of feeding to both people and to the biodiversity it supports. Our study aimed to explore the motivations behind wild bird feeding in south-east England through both qualitative and quantitative approaches. This involved a two-phase process: first, the dimensions of involvement were ascertained through semistructured interviews with 30 people engaged in feeding. Interrogation of their responses was used to construct an online questionnaire. A total of 563 respondents completed this survey. Analysis of their responses discerned a series of themes with the most salient being based on or directed toward: pleasure, bird survival, nurture, education of children, and connection with nature. These findings reveal that bird feeding is underpinned by a complex array of motivations and influences involving both personal and environmental benefits.
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Clark, D. N., D. N. Jones, and S. J. Reynolds. 2019. Exploring the motivations for garden bird feeding in south-east England. Ecology
and Society 24(1):26.
Exploring the motivations for garden bird feeding in south-east England
David N. Clark 1, Darryl N. Jones 2 and S. James Reynolds 1,3
ABSTRACT. The feeding of wild birds in domestic gardens is one of the most widespread and popular forms of human-wildlife
interaction throughout the Western World. The increasing recognition of the benefits to human health and well-being of contact with
nature, especially in an increasingly urbanized world, reveals the need for a greater understanding of why we engage in bird feeding.
This will undoubtedly result in enhanced benefits of feeding to both people and to the biodiversity it supports. Our study aimed to
explore the motivations behind wild bird feeding in south-east England through both qualitative and quantitative approaches. This
involved a two-phase process: first, the dimensions of involvement were ascertained through semistructured interviews with 30 people
engaged in feeding. Interrogation of their responses was used to construct an online questionnaire. A total of 563 respondents completed
this survey. Analysis of their responses discerned a series of themes with the most salient being based on or directed toward: pleasure,
bird survival, nurture, education of children, and connection with nature. These findings reveal that bird feeding is underpinned by a
complex array of motivations and influences involving both personal and environmental benefits.
Key Words: food supplementation; human-wildlife interactions; qualitative surveys; questionnaire
Although the intentional provisioning of wild birds has probably
been practiced in many western countries for centuries (Cocker
and Tipling 2014, Reynolds et al. 2017, Jones 2018), until only a
few decades ago the practice was largely opportunistic and
spontaneous (Baicich et al. 2015, Jones 2018). Although there is
evidence that a more organized and planned form of wild bird
feeding became established in some parts of the United Kingdom
(UK) following prolonged periods of extreme weather in the late
1890s with the development and use of bird tables and seed
hoppers (Allen 1976, Callahan 2014), the typical practice
remained one of providing kitchen food scraps during winter, the
proverbial “crumbs on the snowy window sill” (Allen 1976). An
interpretation of historical newspaper articles from this period
indicates a clear motivation toward relieving the suffering of the
birds and improving their chances of survival (Jones 2018).
Feeding kitchen scraps to birds is still widespread but bird
provisioning in the UK, the USA, and elsewhere has developed
into a multimillion-dollar industry practiced by millions of
people. For example, approximately 60% of British households
are engaged in feeding (Fuller et al. 2008), providing an estimated
165,000 tons of seed annually to a wide range of species (Clark
2013). The popularity of the practice, actively promoted by bird
and conservation organizations, has led to a proliferation of
products and the emergence of an industry in the UK generating
approximately US$440 million annually (Clark 2013). Bird
feeding practices in the UK, i.e., the availability of seeds, seed
mixes and related products, seasonal versus year-round feeding,
the regularity, and planned nature of the provisioning, raise many
questions about the motivations of human participants.
The collective scale of private gardens in the UK represents one
of the largest of wildlife habitat types (Cannon 1999).
Supplementary feeding in gardens is potentially beneficial for
birds (
results/) and with the increasing intensification of land use in rural
areas and concurrent declines in populations of many small bird
species (Siriwardena et al. 2012), the role of gardens in providing
overwintering and breeding habitat is becoming widely
appreciated (Davies et al. 2012). Given its scale and popularity,
wild bird feeding is almost certainly the most important and
potentially malleable form of gardening for wildlife practices
(Fuller et al. 2008, Jones and Reynolds 2008). However, the
practice of bird feeding can also be detrimental to birds, for
example by facilitating transmission of diseases between birds
visiting feeding stations (Lawson et al. 2018). Thus, obtaining a
detailed and reliable perspective on the motivations associated
with bird feeding is timely (Jones 2011).
The growing appreciation of the many human benefits, both
physical and psychological, associated with various levels of
interaction with nature (Keniger et al. 2013, Cox and Gaston
2016), and a concern that in an increasingly urbanized world these
interactions are decreasing (Cox and Gaston 2018), provide
important perspectives on the need for a better understanding of
the motivations for bird feeding. There are few activities offering
a direct interaction with wild animals as straightforward as the
filling of a feeder in a private garden (Chapman 2015). The
pleasure associated with observing birds at close quarters, as well
as supporting birds, especially in winter, have anecdotally been
regarded as self-evident motivations for feeding birds (Hiesemann
1908, Soper 1965, Glue 1982). Scientific interest in these issues
has gathered pace more recently. Rollinson et al. (2003) surveyed
people feeding wildlife in Brisbane, Australia, and found that they
believed that it benefitted the wildlife recipients. Howard and
Jones (2004) were the first to investigate specifically the
motivations of people engaged in wild bird feeding using both
qualitative and quantitative surveys of the Australian feeding
public. More recently, Galbraith et al. (2014) employed a postal
survey among New Zealand feeding participants, and Schreiber
(2010) an online survey of members of the British Trust for
Ornithology (BTO) in the UK; both studies confirming that a
clear majority of respondents was motivated primarily by the
1School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, 2Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Brisbane,
Australia, 3Army Ornithological Society (AOS), Aldershot, UK
Ecology and Society 24(1): 26
pleasure associated with feeding birds. This latter study also found
that a desire to assist birds to survive through winter, as well as
simply observing the bird’s behavior, were strong drivers.
Similarly, Chapman (2015) used a range of social science
approaches to find that garden bird feeding (again, among BTO
members) involved a strong moralistic element among the
participants, reflecting a duty of care toward the birds and an
attitude of responsibility toward their welfare.
A more detailed study by Cox and Gaston (2016) undertook an
interview-based investigation of motivations among residents
living in three towns near London in the UK. They compared
people who did not feed, those who fed irregularly, and those who
fed regularly, and found a strong relationship between level of
participation and feelings of relaxation and connectedness with
A more complete understanding of the motivations underlying
bird feeding would facilitate communication of best practice
among the bird feeding public while also developing routes for
engagement with nonbird feeding citizens. Thus, the aim of this
study was to attempt a detailed identification and analysis of all
of the major motivations for feeding wild birds that operate
alongside the themes already found. To achieve this, a
combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques was used
to question bird feeding participants in south-east England.
To explore the complexity of patterns and responses associated
with the practice of wild bird feeding, both quantitative and
qualitative approaches were employed (Robson 2002). This
mixed-methods program enhances the possibility of discerning
perspectives that were not anticipated while allowing for
subsequent statistical analyses (Bryman 2006). Both components
of the research were approved by the University of Birmingham
Human Ethics Committee (ERN/13-0160). All respondents were
over 16 years of age and residents of the UK. There was no
discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or social status although
minimum quotas of participants of both sexes and across
different age classes were required in the qualitative study. It was
assumed that respondents in the quantitative study had access to
a computer.
Qualitative study: survey participants and procedure
The qualitative component was undertaken to understand the
motivations and triggers for feeding birds. Although qualitative
approaches have foundations in health, social, and education
research (Denzin and Lincoln 1998), they are increasingly being
used in conservation research, particularly when interactions
occur between humans and wildlife (Perez et al. 2011). These
approaches allow respondents to be flexible and expansive in their
answers compared to questionnaire data, which often provide
more prescriptive and closed responses to lines of inquiry
(Schuman and Presser 1979). An in-depth format was selected to
allow respondents to be interviewed at home, providing an
informal environment and context for the discussion.
Thirty in-depth interviews were performed during the winter of
2012/2013. Interviews were undertaken with adults who had fed
birds in the last week at their home. Respondents were recruited
using advertisements placed on the London Wildlife Trust (LWT)
website and in Parent and Friends newsletters of primary schools
local to DC in East Dulwich, a suburb within south-east London.
The interviews were split evenly between male and female (15 of
each), and between younger (≤ 50 years of age) and older (> 50
years of age) respondents.
A semistructured questionnaire guide was used to direct the
interviews. Responses to two main issues were sought during the
interviews: (1) the respondent’s practice of bird feeding (including
what was fed, when and how often), and (2) their motivation for
engaging in bird feeding. The duration of the interviews was
between 45 and 90 minutes. This period included a warm-up phase
to allow the respondent and interviewer to become acquainted
and sufficient time to explore the topics fully (Robson 2002). For
each of the interviews, a summary of the original notes made at
the time was completed by DC which included relevant verbatim
Quantitative study: survey participants and procedure
Quantitative information was obtained through the use of an
online questionnaire. This consisted of four sections covering: (1)
the practice of bird feeding; (2) the triggers that lead to it (what
influenced people to feed birds); (3) the possible reasons people
identified as to why they fed birds (their motivations); and (4)
standard demographic details (Appendix 1).
The questionnaire was initially tested informally with six local
bird feeding participants and apart from the correcting of
typographical errors, no revisions were made before the
questionnaire was uploaded onto the internet through the Survey
Monkey© ( website. Respondents
were recruited using advertisements placed in publications and
websites of a variety of organizations including Wildlife Trusts,
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) groups, BTO
groups, and resident fora and park-friends groups. Respondents
were then emailed an outline of the project and an invitation to
participate in the survey through an attached link. These emails
also included descriptions of procedures and reassurances of
Statistical analyses
The motivations section of the questionnaire employed
(Appendix 1) a series of statements (derived from the findings of
the interviews), which respondents agreed or disagreed with on a
Likert scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = strongly disagree and 10 = strongly
agree (Weitjers et al. 2010). All statistical analyses were conducted
in R version 2.11.1 (R Core Team 2010). Chi-square tests were
used to examine differences between groups of respondents split
by age, sex, geographical location, or wildlife group membership.
Fisher’s exact tests were employed when the number of responses
was ≤ 5 at any point on the Likert scale. An alpha threshold of
0.05 was used. If statistical significance was found, posthoc
analyses using the standardized residuals identified differences
between groups. Further posthoc analyses were performed when
necessary to discern statistical significance between groups by
collapsing the contingency tables from 10 × 2 to 2 × 2 (Larson
and Farber 2010). When collapsing tables the Yates’ continuity
correction for one degree of freedom was automatically employed
in R.
Ecology and Society 24(1): 26
Qualitative stage
Upon the completion of the qualitative interviews, a detailed
subjective assessment of the notes was undertaken by DC to
identify themes for development of the subsequent questionnaire.
Identification was based on the language used (e.g., “I feed birds
for their survival” was categorized as “bird survival;” “I like to
see things grow” as “nurture;” “I see them as my pets” as
“companionship;” etc.). Evaluating the responses to the
motivations component of the interviews of bird feeding
participants indicated that many respondents often had several
motivations to which they attached different levels of importance.
Nine major motivational themes were identified from the
qualitative responses and these were incorporated into specific
questions in the quantitative questionnaire. These themes are
outlined here along with indicative quotations from respondents.
By far the most frequently mentioned motivation was that of
pleasure, with almost all interviewees mentioning this (93%, n =
28), a response equally forthcoming across age groups and
I just love watching them (female older A).
I have to say the main reason is really selfish. It’s for my
pleasure (male younger C).
This pleasure appeared to be associated with both seeing and
hearing birds. The movement, behavior, and differences between
the species all added to the response:
When I hear birdsong at the start of the day it gives me
optimism and a spring in my step (female younger A).
If there is more than one species I get engrossed, for
example watching the Greenfinches squeeze their way in
(female older B).
Several respondents spoke of how they become disconnected
from their daily tasks and routines while observing birds at their
I sit at the front watching birds. I can sit for an hour and
then my partner takes over in case I miss something. I
become oblivious to other’s like when you relax
and all the stress goes out of you (male older D).
It’s like staring into a fire or when you look at a fountain
(female older C).
Fifty-seven per cent (n = 17) of respondents spoke in terms of
being motivated to aid and conserve birds, typically in terms of
nourishment, the provision of alternative food sources, or as an
aid to winter survival:
I want species to continue. It is something I can do for
nature. I can’t help out the lions in Africa but I can help
out the birds (female older D).
It is the conservation element. I want them to survive the
winter. I am aware of a need to support them especially
in an urban environment (male older C).
Connecting with nature
The theme interpreted as “connecting with nature” was the third
most mentioned motivation (40%, n = 12) with typical comments
I enjoy wildlife anywhere. It’s like bringing the
countryside to your garden (female younger B).
It’s the closest you can get to wildness (male older E).
A theme encapsulated as “nurturing” was identified as another
dimension of bird feeding:
I live on my own. The children have grown up. I have no
grandchildren. I have no job now that I am retired. I need
something to nurture, to sustain life and watch life grow
(female older B).
They are my babies (female older E).
Educating children
For interviewees with children it was noted that they often spoke
of wanting their child/children to be educated about birds and
nature in their own family environment. For some this was seen
as part of a family tradition:
[I feed the birds] as education for the children (female
younger C).
Having a child to pass on the tradition (female younger
Making Amends
Numerous respondents (33%, n = 10) expressed a degree of guilt
as to how humans have treated the environment and suggested
that feeding offered a way of making amends. These feelings
appeared to be particularly prevalent among younger
[Feeding birds is] a way of showing that there is a way
of doing something for what we humans have done (male
younger A).
Now things have really changed we seem to be losing so
many species and gardens are so different and then there’s
climate change. We have to do something about it (male
younger B).
We need to compensate for what we humans have done
and do (female younger E).
Personal Atonement
A separate, yet closely related, theme to this generalized
atonement was identified as personal atonement, encapsulating
a respondent’s desire to contribute personally to mitigating
environmental damage that they had personally caused:
The whole area of sustainability is important with me to
live within my resources (male older A).
A way of recycling (female younger B).
Ecology and Society 24(1): 26
The potential for some form of interaction or companionship
with birds visiting their gardens was mentioned by several
I am at home most days and they keep me company
(female older E).
To tell you the truth I don’t know what I would do without
them. I have to keep feeding them so I can attract them
(male older B).
Not Wasting Food
Finally, interviewees mentioned the provisioning of kitchen
scraps to birds to not waste food:
My grandma’s austerity is with me today. Because of
rationing and harder times, she did not waste a thing.
Feeding birds was part of this (female older F).
To not waste our food (male younger C).
Influences and Triggers
During the qualitative stage respondents were given the
opportunity to describe the influences and triggers for their bird
feeding by exploring their personal history of the pastime.
Although a large number of these were mentioned, the three most
often reported were: parents (57%), having a garden (53%), and
grandparents (43%), exemplified in the following quotations:
Dad was inquisitive and taught us to engage and look at
things. We were constantly being told about the birds
(older female).
It was when we got this place. The first time that we had
a garden, it made me think about the birds (younger female).
Quantitative stage
Participants: demographics and locations
The online questionnaire was available for three months (March
to May 2013) and was completed by a total of 563 people. Of
these, 62% of respondents were female and 38% were male; 57%
were > 50 years of age and 43% were between 16 and 50 years
old. There was a distinct bias toward respondents being “white”
with 87.7% categorizing themselves as “white British” and 8.2%
as “white other;” only 2.2% of respondents described themselves
otherwise (1.9% declined to respond to this question). Although
the questionnaire was open to respondents from across the UK,
the sample was strongly biased toward London (48.1%) and the
south-east of England (29.4%). Respondents self-described their
residence as being mainly in either urban and suburban areas
(76%), or in the countryside and villages (24%). Self-assessed
garden sizes of the participants indicated that 25% had small
gardens, 45% had medium-sized gardens, and 30% had large
gardens (based on the RSPB’s criteria used in the Big Garden
Birdwatch; Chandler 2011). Approximately half of respondents
(47%) were members of environmental organizations such as the
RSPB, the BTO, or local wildlife trusts.
Feeding practices
Feeding regularity differed across respondents with 46% stating
that they fed daily, 33% attempting to feed every day without
100% success, and 20% feeding occasionally (Appendix 1). There
was no significant gender difference in regularity of feeding (χ² =
0.84, df = 1, p = 0.66). There was, however, a significant difference
in the regularity of feeding between age groups with older
respondents being more diligent in their feeding habits (χ² = 31.96,
df = 1, p < 0.01) and being more likely to feed every day (z = 2.20,
p < 0.05) than younger respondents. Similarly, member
respondents were significantly more inclined to feed than
nonmember respondents (χ² = 25.17, df = 1, p < 0.01) and also
more likely to feed daily (z = 2.50, p < 0.05). Almost all (98.4%)
respondents fed in the winter with a reduction (to 70.5%) in
feeding during the summer. However, there was a clear majority
of respondents who fed year-round.
Motivational themes: quantitative comparison
Table 1 shows the number of online survey respondents who
answered the questions on motivational themes, and the median
score derived from the 10-point Likert Scale. The relative
significance of pleasure, bird survival, nurturing, connection with
nature, and education of children as motivators for feeding birds
is presented in Figure 1. For each of these themes, over 80% of
respondents gave very high ratings (i.e., ≥ 6). In contrast, the
themes of making amends, personal atonement, companionship,
and not wasting food had more mixed responses with a majority
receiving scores of ≤ 5 (Fig. 1).
Table 1. Median Likert scores from n respondents to a
quantitative survey (Supplementary information, Appendix 1)
investigating the motivational themes for feeding birds by the
general public in south-east England in 2012.
Motivation n Median score
Pleasure 557 10
Bird survival 557 10
Nurture 557 9
Children’s education 185 9
Connect with nature 553 8
Making amends for environmental
557 5
Atoning for personal environmental
555 4
Companionship 552 4
Not wasting food 553 3
The Likert scale was used from 1 to 10 where 1 = strongly disagree and
10 = strongly agree.
The statistical comparisons for the four variables of gender, age,
location, and membership status are summarized in Table 2. There
were significant differences in responses between groups split
according to these four variables: females were more likely than
males to express nurture and education of children as motivations;
members were more likely than nonmembers to express bird
survival, connecting with nature, making amends, personal
atonement, and companionship as motivations; both older
respondents and London respondents were more likely than
younger respondents and non-Londoners, respectively, to express
companionship as a motivation.
Ecology and Society 24(1): 26
Table 2. Summary of Chi-squared tests comparing frequency distributions of support for the 10 Likert scale levels for gender (male vs
female), age (< 50 years vs > 50 years), location (London vs non-London), and memberships status (member vs nonmember) in
explaining the motivations of the public feeding birds in south-east England in 2012.
Motivation Gender Age Location Membership
Pleasure NSNS NS NS
Survival χ² = 20.14, df = 9, p < 0.05 NS NS χ² = 25.46, df = 9, p < 0.01
Nurturing χ² = 22.23, df = 9, p < 0.01 NS NS NS
Connecting χ² = 18.63, df = 9, p < 0.05 NS NS χ² = 29.30, df = 9, p < 0.01
Education NS NS NS NS
Making amends χ² = 22.71, df = 9, p < 0.01 NS NS χ² = 26.15, df = 9, p < 0.01
Personal atonement χ² = 23.35, df = 9, p < 0.01 NS NS χ² = 28.45, df = 9, p < 0.01
Companionship NS χ² = 40.91, df = 9, p < 0.01 χ² = 25.53, df = 9, p < 0.01 χ² = 32.34, df = 9, p < 0.01
Not wasting food NS NS NS NS
NS is not significant at an alpha threshold of 0.05.
Fig. 1. Frequency distributions of respondent scores on a
Likert scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 = strongly disagree and 10 =
strongly agree) when asked about the importance of various
motivational themes (a) to (i) in their bird feeding participation
in south-east England in 2012.
Influences and triggers
There were similarities with the qualitative results in that gardens
and parents were important influences in triggering their
willingness to feed birds, indicated by 81% and 40% of
respondents, respectively. The influence of grandparents,
however, was much lower, mentioned by only 8% of respondents.
Significantly, conservation organizations, particularly the RSPB,
were nominated as the second most important influence by exactly
half of all respondents.
Continued urbanization potentially decreases opportunities for
residents to interact with nature through loss of green habitat,
breaks in connectedness of habitat, and the increasing focus on
indoor urban living (Bratman et al. 2012). Furthermore, there is
a growing concern that this disconnect leads to an extinction of
experience in future generations (Soga et al. 2015) and
environmental generational amnesia (Hartig and Kahn 2016).
This is at a time when access to nature is increasingly regarded as
a critically positive element of mental health and personal well-
being (Keniger et al. 2013, Soga et al. 2015, Cox and Gaston 2016,
Reynolds et al. 2017, Jones 2018), reducing human stress levels
(Hartig and Kahn 2016), and benefiting human cognitive
performance (Berman et al. 2008). Furthermore, human health
is arguably the most important element of ecosystem services
(Sandifer et al. 2015). Despite the continuing pressures on green
spaces in urban environments, gardens continue to be a significant
part of the total urban green area (Colding et al. 2006) with even
the smallest urban gardens able to attract birds (Burton 2000).
Birds act as a mobile link species between gardens and other green
spaces such as urban parks, helping to sustain bird populations
(Blair 1996) while adding to their value through the provision of
a diverse range of ecosystem services (Lundeberg et al. 2008).
Within this context, our study demonstrates that bird feeding has
the ability to provide a straightforward means of providing access
and connection to nature and highlights the link between gardens
and bird feeding. No other home-based activity enables regular
and direct engagement with nature with relatively little financial
investment (Jones 2011).
The most noteworthy general outcome of our study was the depth
of feeling expressed by participants, both interviewees and survey
respondents. This detection of a significant emotional component
of what is a popular and familiar pastime suggests a strong and
enduring engagement on the part of participants. During the
interviews, highly charged emotional comments such as: “I don’t
know what I would do without the birds” (female older E); “It’s
just something I do. It is part of me” (male younger D); and “I
have no-one left to nurture. They are life to me” (female older B),
were expressed. These statements are strongly indicative of the
Ecology and Society 24(1): 26
personal and positive impact of bird feeding on the lives of many
Two motivations were central to these strong sentiments expressed
in our study: the fundamental principle of the pleasure derived
from feeding, a finding common to previous studies from a range
of countries including the UK (Schreiber 2010), France (Clergeau
et al. 2001), the USA and Canada (Horn and Johansen 2013),
and Australia (Howard and Jones 2004); and the apparently
positive enhancement on bird survival, again confirming findings
from other research (Schreiber 2010, Galbraith et al. 2014,
Chapman 2015). The primary contribution of our investigation
was, however, a more detailed articulation of the various
motivations underlying participation in bird feeding in south-east
England, a capacity based on the effective combination of
qualitative and quantitative methodologies.
An important element of our approach was to attempt to elicit
the historical background to feeding from interviewees. Attitudes
toward animals are typically influenced by traditional practices
(Meng 2009) and, for some participants in this study, bird feeding
was regarded as a component of a British cultural identity.
Comments such as “I used to look forward to feeding the chickens
and then see all the little sparrows coming down” (female older
G) and “I don’t have caged birds anymore. Now they come into
my garden and see me” (female older H) displayed a personal
historical aspect to their bird feeding associated with the practices
of themselves and their own families. The keeping of domestic
fowl (Gallus domesticus) and caged birds, in particular, had been
a popular activity in the UK historically (Shaw and Fisher 1963).
Between World Wars I and II, approximately three million caged
birds were kept in the UK (Messent 1977), leading to a large
expansion in the availability of commercial birdseed mixes
conveniently purchased from supermarkets (Callahan 2014). This
commercialization and commodification of bird food for caged
birds led directly to the first products packaged explicitly for wild
birds (most notably, Swoop Wild Bird Food, which appeared in
1958; Callahan 2014). A further historical perspective was
revealed by some older respondents in our study who referred to
the motivation of not wasting food, a consequence they
recognized from food rationing in World War II and the
subsequent period of austerity (Callahan 2014).
Motivations such as companionship (initially associated with
pets) are distinctly anthropocentric compared to the more
ecocentric attitudes, which are focused on concerns for survival
or nurture (Kellert and Berry 1987). The main driver of feeding,
i.e., pleasure, is unequivocally self-orientated, yet appears to
accompany numerous other motivations. Central to the dynamic
of anthropocentric and ecocentric motivations is the expression
of a need to be close to nature. This yearning for some form of
interaction with wild-ness is rapidly emerging as a critically
positive element of mental health and personal well-being,
especially with respect to increasing levels of urbanization
(Keniger et al. 2013, Soga et al. 2015). Our results revealed that
having access to a garden was a primary trigger for feeding birds,
emphasizing the importance of gardens in facilitating access to
Furthermore, for some interviewees the practice of gardening
itself was closely connected to feeding birds and a reflection of
the nurture motivation. For instance, some respondents stated: “I
see it as part of my whole little ecosystem that I have developed
in my garden. It’s not just about the birds but growing things that
work together” (male younger E), and “I put my time and energy
into creating little habitats rather than just adding bird feeders...
more planting that is good for the birds such as berries” (male
older C). Gardening has been widely reported as important for
birds and other biodiversity (Cannon 1999, Lawton et al. 2010,
Goddard et al. 2011). Britain has been described as a nation of
gardeners (Moss 2011) with an acceleration of interest in the
practice since World War II (Constantine 1981). There are,
however, growing concerns about how householders carry out
gardening activities (Gaston et al. 2007). The tradition of having
tidy gardens, regularly mown lawns, and the removal of all weeds
and other organic material, limits the food sources and shelter for
wildlife (Yucel 2013). In response to this, Smith et al. (2011) noted
the need for wildlife-friendly garden design and practice, and
many environmental organizations and agencies are now
providing detailed advice on best-practice for this type of
gardening (e.g., Toms and Sterry 2008).
Our study also found that children’s education was an important
motivator for respondents with children. Beck et al. (2001)
reported a relationship between increased knowledge and interest
in wild birds and parental involvement; there is strong evidence
that positive attitudes toward nature in general can be formed by
experiences in childhood (Cheng and Monroe 2012) and by the
frequency of these experiences (Thompson et al. 2008).
Furthermore, a childhood interest in birds can lead to an
enhanced concern for conservation in adulthood (Cannon 1999).
Providing access to nature and thus creating positive
environmental attitudes may be critical in improving the prospects
of urban biodiversity and human well-being (Cheng and Monroe
2012). The challenge is dealing with a potential decrease in
positive regard for wildlife associated with loss of contact with
nature and changes in the amount of freedom children have to
engage and explore outdoors (Balmford et al. 2002). Bird feeding,
therefore, provides an accessible and home-based means for
children to be exposed to nature (Cannon 1999).
This study found several significant differences between men and
women in terms of their motivations to feed birds. One possible
driver may be the increased need to nurture in women recognized
as a key difference between the genders in many studies (e.g., van
Esterik 1997, Stark 2002). Women were also more expressive in
describing their emotions toward bird feeding being more likely
to “forget what they are doing” (according to several respondents)
and more likely to describe the experience in quasi-spiritual terms,
findings, which coincide with many studies highlighting women
as being more emotionally expressive than men (e.g., Stark 2002).
The differences found for the bird feeding motivations of pleasure,
bird survival, connecting with nature, and atonement for
individual environmental damage may also be partly explained
by men being more likely to display a use of less expressive
language toward the environment (Kellert and Berry 1987,
Cooper and Smith 2010).
Although participation in bird feeding has been found to be
associated with age (Galbraith et al. 2014), it may be more
appropriate to study motivations at different stages of life (e.g.,
establishment of first home, having family, retirement) rather than
at predefined age boundaries. The age discriminators in this study
were determined by simply dividing equally our qualitative
Ecology and Society 24(1): 26
interviewees into two broad age categories. We found that
differences in motivations between these age cohorts were not as
pronounced as between the sexes. There were also no differences
between age cohorts in the principal motivations of pleasure, bird
survival, nurture, children’s education, and connection with
nature. This concurs with other environmental studies (Buttel and
Flinn 1978, van Liere and Dunlap 1980, Samdahl and Robertson
1989) in which age was not a good discriminator. There were
differences between other motivations in which the older age
cohort was more likely to feed for companionship and atone for
individual environmental damage. Although not explicitly
investigated during our study, it is plausible that older respondents
were more likely to be living alone. Thus, the desire for
companionship was more keenly felt in this age cohort of
respondents. Older respondents were also more inclined to feed
compared to younger respondents. There were much poorer
response rates from the age groups up to 30 years of age and thus
age as a discriminator was almost certainly undermined. Given
the expected influence that younger people will have societally
and politically in the future, we concur with many others (e.g.,
Cheng and Monroe 2012, Keniger et al. 2013, Soga et al. 2015)
that further research is urgently required within this younger age
There was little difference in motivations between respondents
residing in London compared to elsewhere although the latter
were more likely to report companionship as a motivator, perhaps
indicating their perceived or real degree of isolation. However,
there were marked differences between respondents who were
members of environmental groups and those who were not.
Member participants were significantly more motivated to feed
birds for pleasure, to assist bird survival, to connect with nature,
to atone for societal and individual environmental damage, and
for companionship.
We found the motivations for feeding birds to be
multidimensional, involving nine major motivational themes:
pleasure, bird survival, connecting with nature, nurture, educating
children, making amends, personal atonement, companionship,
and not wasting food. Garden bird feeding in south-east England,
and, we would contend, throughout the UK, has deep complex
cultural roots, which have been formed through historical
relationships between humans and birds through domestication,
pet ownership, garden stewardship, and an innate need to be close
to nature. Our motivations to feed reflect this complexity
displaying both altruistic and selfish motivations expressed in
ecocentric and anthropocentric terms. Understanding these
motivations is particularly pertinent at a time when human society
is becoming more urbanized and apparently distanced from
nature. We believe that the practice of bird feeding is an important
part of the cultural aspect of ecosystem services and is a
comparatively simple way of connecting with nature. We also
demonstrated the usefulness of combining qualitative and
quantitative techniques in enhancing the depth of responses
provided by its participants. We acknowledge that further
research is required with younger respondents both qualitatively
and quantitatively, that life stage rather than age per se would be
a more appropriate discriminator and that there is a need to
understand in greater depth the meaning of pleasure in relation
to wild bird feeding.
Responses to this article can be read online at:
We are grateful to Professor Graham Martin, Dr. Dan
Chamberlain, and Dr. Richard Burkmar for advice and guidance.
Neil Gladner, Vice President of Wild Bird Centers America,
Washington, D.C., USA, Dr. David Horn at Millikin University,
Decatur, IL, USA, Dr. Diane Kuehn of the SUNY College of
Environmental Science and Forestry, Albany, NY, USA, and Martin
George at CJ Wildlife, Upton Magna, UK all furnished useful
information and provided encouragement. Matthew Coles and
Sophie Johnson at HPI Research, London, UK provided useful
advice about the research methodology. The London Wildlife Trust
(in particular Mathew Frith) and the BTO (in particular Penny
Williams) were instrumental to the success of the project in
providing access to their members. Finally, we thank all of the people
who kindly took part as participants in the study.
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Appendix 1. Quantitative research questionnaire.
1. This questionnaire is for people who have fed wild birds at home in their gardens or
on their balcony in the last 6 months in south-east England.
It takes around 10 minutes to fill in and is part of a scientific thesis centered on
feeding birds.
Your participation in the research is voluntary. You may choose not to participate and
you may withdraw participation at any time. There are no penalties for not
participating or for withdrawing at any time.
Protecting your privacy is paramount and no participants will be identified within the
research; names and addresses are not required. Once the survey questions are
submitted you will not be able to withdraw from the study and by completing the
survey you will have consented for the data to be included within the study. If you are
interested in receiving a summary of the research findings after the dissertation is
completed (i.e. after the end of August 2013), please contact the researcher Mr David
Clark at:
Clicking on the `agree` button below indicates that:
You have read the above information
You voluntarily agree to participate
If you do not wish to participate then please click on the `disagree` button.
Question 2
When do you feed birds in your garden / on your balcony?
Tick All That Apply
Question 3
How often do you feed the birds in your garden / on your balcony?
Every day
I try to feed every day but not with 100% success
Question 4
What do you feed birds in your garden / on your balcony?
Please Tick All That Apply
Sliced fruit and / or vegetables
Niger seed
Sunflower seed
Mixed seed
Your own prepared food for the birds
Other: Please Specify
Question 5
Who or what was the most important influence for you in starting to feed birds in your
Please tick one box
RSPB/ BTO / Wildlife Trust / conservation organisation
Newspapers / television / magazines
Having a garden
Other: please specify
Question 6
Were there any other influences for you in starting to feed birds?
Tick as many as that apply
RSPB/BTO/Wildlife Trust/conservation organisation
Newspapers / television / magazines
Having a garden
Other: please specify
Question 7
How long have you been feeding birds in your garden?
Less than 5 years
More than 5 years
Nearly all of my life
Question 8
These statements are about finer details of feeding birds. Please indicate how much
you agree with them where:
10 = strongly agree
1 = strongly disagree
I have a duty to feed the birds that come to my home
There is something spiritual about feeding the birds
Feeding birds is my way of making up for all the damage we humans have done to the
Feeding birds is part of what I am and do
Feeding birds is a way that I can connect with nature
I like to think of the birds I feed as my birds
I feed birds to help them survive
Feeding birds for me is a way of not wasting food
Feeding birds is a way of making up for any damage I am doing to the environment
Feeding birds gives me pleasure
Sometimes I think that I would be lost without the birds, they are my friends
I like to nurture living things
Question 9
If you have children at home, how much do you agree with the following statement?
Remember that:
10 = strongly agree
1 = strongly disagree
If you do not have children at home please go to question 10.
I feed the birds for my children to be educated about natural things
Question 10
Thinking about your feelings about feeding birds, how much do you agree with the
following statements?
10 = strongly agree
1 = strongly disagree
It makes me feel grown up feeding the birds in the garden
Its not so much the type of bird but how many birds that I attract which makes me
feel happy
It gives me a warm glow inside
I have no strong feelings about feeding birds; it`s just something I do
Seeing many different types of birds in the garden makes me feel happier than how
many birds
I sometimes forget about what I am doing when I watch the birds in my garden
I get excited seeing a new type of bird in my garden
I feel proud that I have done something for nature and the environment
Question 11
Which three birds do you most like attracting by feeding?
Please list three
Question 12
Which three birds do you least like feeding?
Please list three
Question 13
Do you feed any other animals in your garden or on your balcony?
If so please list which animals
Question 14
Are you
Male / female
Question 15
Your age?
16 19
20 30
31 40
41 50
51 60
61 70
Question 16
How large is the area in which you feed?
Small from balcony size to around 10 × 12 metres
Medium up to 10 × 25 metres
Large above 10 × 25 metres
Question 17
Which best describes where you live?
A village
An urban centre
The countryside
Question 18
What is your postcode?
Question 19
Are you a member of the BTO / the RSPB / a local Wildlife Trust?
Question 20
Please indicate to which occupational group the main income earner of your
household belongs, or to which of the groups they best fit.
Please tick one
Owner or director of business
Senior manager
Middle manager
Junior manager
Administration / clerical
Skilled manual work
Semi and unskilled manual work
Student / full time education
Question 21
To which of these groups do you consider you belong?
White British
White - other
Black - Caribbean
Black - African
Black - other
Would rather not say
Other: please specify
Thank you for your time and efforts in completing this questionnaire. They are much
... As noted earlier, affective responses to birds and their behaviour are also central to people's motivations for feeding birds and the pleasure they receive from watching and listening to them. Rich accounts of the role of emotions emerge in qualitative research, revealing the nature and strength of people's emotional affiliation with birds (e.g., Chapman 2015;Clark et al. 2019;Curtin 2009;Lorimer 2008;Ratcliffe et al. 2013). Emotions can shape people's behaviour in relation to feeding and caring for wild birds. ...
... Sturm et al. 2020Sturm et al. , 2021. The positive impact of watching and identifying garden birds supports research that has found pleasure is a key motivation for feeding birds (Chapman 2015;Clark et al. 2019;Cox and Gaston 2016;Howard and Jones 2004;Galbraith et al. 2014;Jones 2018;Jones and Reynolds 2008), and extends this work by showing that specific psychological benefits can be observed empirically after a brief, focused bird observation period, with greater benefits gained when observers notice and rate feelings of joy. The experimental design and use of established measures of state anxiety, well-being and nature connectedness offer further weight and detail to Cox and Gaston's (2016) finding that people report that seeing garden birds calms them and helps them feel connected to nature. ...
... McEwan et al 2019). Previous research on bird feeding in the UK found no gender differences in regularity of feeding (Clark et al. 2019), however more females than males have been found to take part in Big Garden Birdwatch (Cooper and Smith 2010). Clark et al. (2019) found that females are more likely to report being motivated by an interest in nurturing birds and educating children than males, which may have an impact on emotional responses to bird watching. ...
Full-text available
The feeding of garden birds is a popular and accessible means of connecting with wildlife in urban environments in the United Kingdom. Past research has found that the main motivations for feeding birds are psychological benefits, concern for bird welfare, and connecting to nature. This study explores whether a brief birdwatching activity impacts on wellbeing, anxiety, and nature connection. One hundred and fifty-six participants took part in a birdwatching activity, identifying the species that entered their garden during a thirty-minute period. Participants were randomly allocated to the ‘joy’ group, who rated their feeling of joy on seeing each species, or the ‘count’ group, who counted the number of birds of each species. Measures of wellbeing, state anxiety and nature connection were completed before and after the observation period. Both groups had improved wellbeing, anxiety, and nature connection, though decreases in anxiety were greatest for those in the joy group. These results suggest that activating a sense of joy heightens the psychological benefits of watching garden birds. These benefits and the strengthening of nature connections highlight the reciprocal relationship between humans and birds and the importance of actions towards healthy, sustainable urban ecosystems.
... The advocacy role of family in our study was especially strong in the urban context where family was a highly significant contributor to student knowledge. In an urban context, with fewer opportunities to encounter nature, this advocacy may simply take the form of legitimating the exploratory or enquiring behaviour of young children towards natural objects, for example by setting up bird feeders (Clark et al., 2019). However, the foundational role of family in stimulating young peoples' interest in nature is underlined by the compensatory listing of teachers as a principal influence when familial influence was lacking (Table 3). ...
... And this can begin at home; a bird feeding table provides an early and prolonged focus for many children and young people in many households (Clark et al., 2019). Unsurprisingly then, the cultural significance of birds is itself of a different order in the affairs of humans than that of any other taxa (Tidemann & Gosler, 2010). ...
Full-text available
1. We studied the natural history knowledge (NHK) of students (18-19 years), considering the salience of nature expressed through the knowledge of names of organisms , routes for knowledge transmission and acquisition and the potential of specific taxa to represent a student's overall knowledge. 2. We report a 2-year study of the NHK of 149 UK-resident first-year biology students surveyed by means of a free-listing exercise, facilitating the assessment of salience, prior to participation in a residential field course run by the University of Oxford. 3. Each year, students anonymously completed a questionnaire asking them to name any five species in each of five taxonomic groups (birds, trees, mammals, butterflies and wildflowers) found wild in the British Isles, also stating if those named were native or introduced. Metadata were collected on the students' background and sources of knowledge (e.g. family, teachers, etc.). 4. Of the five taxonomic groups, birds were the best known by the students, while butterflies were the most poorly known group. However, although asked for names at species level, while 94% of students could name five British bird taxa, only 55.7% named them at species level, many giving folk generics such as 'duck' or 'seagull' instead. For butterflies, only 12.8% of students correctly named five British species, and 47% named none. 5. Family influences, self-motivation and knowledge of birds, rather than formal education , best predicted students' overall NHK. While urban/rural residency had a small effect on NHK, it strongly influenced the relative importance of other factors. 6. Factor analysis showed that NHK was best represented by knowledge of birds. Furthermore, the bird species named predicted students' total NHK as well as the students' knowledge of birds. Asked to name their favourite bird, students with family influence were significantly more likely to name native species. 7. We describe the complex interplay between context, family and formal education in developing nature salience; roles which we define as nature 'advocacy'. In the urban context, the advocacy of family and teachers was essential to engage young
... This supports previous research findings: motivations related to the appreciation of nature are more likely to support WFG practices (Clark et al., 2019;Goddard et al., 2013); motivations arising from social concerns, such social norm conformity or self-efficacy, might hinder WFG practices (Clayton, 2007). However, case study 1 exemplified how family well-being (i.e. ...
Full-text available
Private domestic gardens have immense potential to contribute to urban biodiversity conservation. However, they are divided into small private plots and managed individually by garden owners. Therefore, engagement in wildlife-friendly gardening (WFG), which entails alternative management and design choices, relies on the individual willingness of each garden owner. Using an online survey and qualitative walking interviews with garden owners, our study explores individual internal and external factors underlying engagement in WFG. We interpret and reflect on our findings in the context of gardening as a relational practice between people and nature. Our findings suggest that motivations for gardening play a central role in how internal and external factors promote or impede WFG. For example, motivations towards organic gardening and learning from nature promote WFG, whereas personal and family care and well-being motivations seem to impede it. The perceived and actual garden area, as well as self-reported insufficient knowledge and social norms, covary the most with engagement in WFG. Engagement in WFG relates to people's relationships with nature, as embodied in social norms of community acceptance and cohesion, and care and respect for nature and others. Future research into pro-environmental behaviours in gardens should adopt more relational approaches that go beyond the individual self and take better account of feedback between individual actions and social relations. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog. © 2023 The Authors. People and Nature published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society.
... Intentional food supplementation of wildlife has long been used to supplement available natural resources in conservation contexts (Castro et al. 2003, González et al. 2006, Robb et al. 2008a, Schoech et al. 2008, Murry et al. 2016 and to supplement perceived food-limited animal populations by members of the public (Weidensaul 2008, Jones 2011. Backyard bird feeding is one especially common form of food supplementation and is a year-round activity for many households world-wide (Horn and Johansen 2013, Galbraith et al. 2014, Clark et al. 2019, Plummer et al. 2019. Participation in this popular pastime is driven by both perceived benefits for birds as well as improved well-being for those feeding them (Goddard et al. 2013, Cox and Gaston 2016, Cox et al. 2017, Dayer et al. 2019). ...
Supplemental feeding of wild animal populations is popular across many areas of the world and has long been considered beneficial, especially to avian taxa. Over four billion dollars are spent by hobby bird feeders in the United States each year alone. However, there is mixed evidence whether wildlife feeding is beneficial, including when it is implemented as a conservation management tool, a targeted experimental design, or an avocation. Much of the current evidence suggests that providing supplemental food is advantageous to the reproductive output and general survival of focal taxa. However, many of these studies are limited in scope and duration, leaving possible negative impacts unaddressed. This is particularly true regarding passive backyard feeding, which describes the majority of supplemental feeding, including the immense effort of millions of public enthusiasts. Here we show that winter supplemental feeding prior to reproduction had no significant impact on a range of reproductive parameters in a resident, montane passerine species, the Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli). This population resides in an intact natural environment with no exposure to supplemental food beyond our experimental treatments, and individual birds were tracked across six years using radio frequency identification technology. Our results add to the growing evidence that supplemental feeding alone, isolated from the effects of urban environments, may have little to no impact on the population dynamics of some avian taxa.
... 10,21,28 Other infections associated with bird feeding can cause considerable avian mortality leading to downstream impacts on urban ecosystems since birds provide many ecosystem services and feature in human recreational activities. [29][30][31] Bread and seed are the most commonly offered supplementary foods, 3,32,33 and the most studied context for examining how supplementary feeding contributes to avian pathogen prevalence. 23,24 Avian diseases in species associated with grain-based feeders include coccidiosis, 34 trichomoniasis, 19,35 mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, 17,36,37 chlamydiosis, 38 and avian poxvirus (Lawson et al., 2014). ...
Garden bird sugar water feeding is increasingly popular worldwide, but little is known about its effects on bird health and associated diseases. There is a concern that feeding stations can accumulate pathogens and facilitate pathogen transmission between individuals, resulting in adverse effects on body condition of visiting birds. We tested the effects of sugar water feeding in urban New Zealand backyards by sampling target species for multiple infections and comparing bird body condition. For this, we compared backyards with and without sugar water feeders and again compared existing sugar water feeders with various sugar concentrations in two cities and in two seasons. Birds caught in gardens with sugar water feeders had poorer body condition; however, birds had better body condition in the city with the warmer climate (Auckland), during summer, and in gardens with high (≥20%) sugar concentration in sugar water feeders in winter. All screening tests for Chlamydia psittaci and Salmonella spp. returned negative results. Avian poxvirus prevalence in tauhou ( Zosterops lateralis) was four times higher in the city with a warmer climate. The likelihood of lice infection in tauhou was lower in gardens with feeders, in the warmer city, in summer, and at feeders with higher sugar concentrations. In tūī ( Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), the likelihood of lice infection decreased with an increase in sugar concentration. Coccidia infection was 4.25 times higher in tauhou in gardens with feeders. Despite the identified risks associated with sugar water feeding, there appear to be potential benefits for native nectarivorous birds, specifically in winter.
... There may be few environmental 405 sustainability considerations when people choose their diets and there is a dietary 406 delocalization, which is proven to be both environmentally damaging and unhealthy(Rose et 407 al., 2019; van der Horst et al.,2011). Yet, it seems that many people yearn for contact with 408 nature(Clark et al., 2019). At the same time many species of crops, vegetables and fruits are 409 underused in global diets, and within the ones being used the same occurs to varieties(FAO et 410 al., 2017). ...
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In this perspective article we start from the theories of constructivism and conceptual change within the field of education to develop and present hypotheses about how understandings of biodiversity and diversity more generally are formed. We argue that extrinsic and circumstantial elements from everyday experiences are relevant in shaping understandings of biodiversity. We discuss how children’s games and food-related experiences may influence how children form conceptions of biodiversity. We focus on ‘misconceptions,’ areas where conceptions differ from established ideas in ecology. These include: underestimating the importance of diversity for “complementarity” and over-simplifications of how nature works. Firstly, we examine a type of children’s game that often concerns biodiversity and consists of a puzzle where the forming of categories is encouraged. Secondly, we discuss people’s relation to nature through food in their diets. We believe that targeted intervention is needed to move towards an inclusive and multi-faceted representation of biodiversity, one that emphasises fundamental properties that make a whole and interacting parts. We argue that experiences of games and food can be pivotal in developing a deeper understanding of these fundamental properties of biodiversity. These would be important experiences to consider when attempting transformative change of relationships between people and nature.
... There may be few environmental 405 sustainability considerations when people choose their diets and there is a dietary 406 delocalization, which is proven to be both environmentally damaging and unhealthy(Rose et 407 al., 2019; van der Horst et al.,2011). Yet, it seems that many people yearn for contact with 408 nature(Clark et al., 2019). At the same time many species of crops, vegetables and fruits are 409 underused in global diets, and within the ones being used the same occurs to varieties(FAO et 410 al., 2017). ...
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In this perspective article we start from the theories of constructivism and conceptual change within the field of education to develop and present hypotheses about how understandings of biodiversity and diversity more generally are formed. We argue that extrinsic and circumstantial elements from everyday experiences are relevant in shaping understandings of biodiversity.We discuss how children’s games and food-related experiences may influence how children form conceptions of biodiversity. We focus on ‘misconceptions,’ areas where conceptions differ from established ideas in ecology. These include: underestimating the importance of diversity for “complementarity” and over-simplifications of how nature works. Firstly, we examine a type of children’s game that often concerns biodiversity and consists of a puzzle where the forming of categories is encouraged. Secondly, we discuss people’s relation to nature through food in their diets. We believe that targeted intervention is needed to move towards an inclusive and multi-faceted representation of biodiversity, one that emphasises fundamental properties that make a whole and interacting parts. We argue that experiences of games and food can be pivotal in developing a deeper understanding of these fundamental properties of biodiversity. These would be important experiences to consider when attempting transformative change of relationships between people and nature.
... Other types of resource provisioning for birds in gardens included nest boxes , Goddard et al. 2013, Shwartz et al. 2014, Beumer 2018) and bird baths , Goddard et al. 2013. About half of our articles on birds investigated the multibillion-dollar global industry of supplemental bird feeding in residential gardens (e.g., Gaston et al. 2007, Fuller et al. 2008, Goddard et al. 2013, Galbraith et al. 2014, Clark et al. 2019, Plummer et al. 2019. Bird feeding in urban gardens was associated with increases in bird abundance (but not species richness; Scope of Biodiversity in Urban Agriculture Fuller et al. 2008), shifts in winter distributions (Plummer et al. 2015), temporal shifts in feeding behavior (Ockendon et al. 2009), and a complete transformation of bird community composition in England over a 40-year period (Plummer et al. 2019). ...
We performed a systematic literature review to summarize what is known by science about the conservation of biodiversity in urban agroecosystems throughout the world. Our initial search among three literature databases captured 9,066 articles, which we screened and reduced to a final set of 431. Our criteria for retaining studies was that they incorporated each of three clearly defined components: urban, agriculture, and biodiversity. We reviewed the final article set using four methods: we 1) extracted basic article information from the citation databases, 2) used topic model analyses to cluster words extracted from article abstracts into topical clusters, 3) manually categorized articles with a set of eight multiple-answer variables, and 4) summarized and extracted main themes from the articles within general biodiversity type groupings (amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, plants, reptiles, and soil microbes). The most common types of biodiversity studied were plants (67% of articles), invertebrates (39%), and birds (23%), while residential (71%) and community (26%) gardens were the most common types of agriculture in which studies were performed. Ornamental and food plants were the most common agricultural production types (60% and 49%, respectively), but the production type was not identified in 22% of studies. Seventy-one percent of articles did not explicitly apply the research to a conservation question, but the knowledge gained could certainly be applied to taxa-specific conservation efforts. Thirty percent of studies explicitly measured conservation or management effects on biodiversity in an urban agricultural setting. Across taxa, we also highlighted research on two topics important to biodiversity conservation in urban agriculture: 1) landscape characteristics (space, scale, and connectivity), and 2) the role of humans. Finally, our chapter concludes with a summary of information gaps and suggestions for future work.
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This study investigated how Crimson Rosellas Platycercus elegans (CR) and Australian King-Parrots Alisterus scapularis (AKP) used provisioned seed at two public bird feeding sites in Australia. A total of 197 CR and 72 AKP were trapped and colour-banded. Observational data was collected every 10mins between 08:00-16:00 for three consecutive days during autumn and spring. Foraging effort was described using five metrics that quantified the birds’ visiting frequency and foraging duration over each day and observation period. Seed selection (over 5mins) and intake (over 10mins) were determined, and the energy intake was calculated. Total counts and population estimates were calculated for each species. Individual, species, seasonal and geographic variation in the use of provisioned seed was demonstrated by the metric summaries and Restricted Maximum Likelihood Modelling. Both species fed as part of large mixed species flocks that would not naturally congregate together to forage. Overall, CR were found to have higher foraging effort and feed in greater numbers than AKP, but a spectrum of use was observed for both species. Individuals were observed using the provisioned seed between 0-3 days/observation period. When birds used the provisioned seed, they were found to make between 1-8 visits/day, with most lasting 10-30mins. Few daily durations lasted longer than 50mins. Within a 10-minute interval, it was possible for a CR and AKP to obtain between 1.73-62.91% and 6.84-88.54% of their daily energy requirements, respectively. In a visit, either species could fill their crop and meet most, if not all, of their daily energy requirements. A small percentage of birds (6.5%) were found to use the feeding sites daily and for long durations (up to 160mins). It is likely that a proportion of the birds using the provisioned seed at both sites were dependent on the food source and would be at risk if the seed supply were suddenly reduced. The study also provided evidence that wild bird feeding provided an advantage to one or more species, as well as evidence that the food source did not affect the study species’ seasonal dispersal patterns or juveniles’ ability to forage on natural food sources.
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Provision of supplementary food for wild birds at garden feeding stations is a common, large-scale and year-round practice in multiple countries including Great Britain (GB). While these additional dietary resources can benefit wildlife, there is a concomitant risk of disease transmission, particularly when birds repeatedly congregate in the same place at high densities and through interactions of species that would not normally associate in close proximity. Citizen science schemes recording garden birds are popular and can integrate disease surveillance with population monitoring, offering a unique opportunity to explore inter-relationships between supplementary feeding, disease epidemiology and population dynamics. Here, we present findings from a national surveillance programme in GB and note the dynamism of endemic and emerging diseases over a 25-year period, focusing on protozoal (finch trichomonosis), viral (Paridae pox) and bacterial (passerine salmonellosis) diseases with contrasting modes of transmission. We also examine the occurrence of mycotoxin contamination of food residues in bird feeders, which present both a direct and indirect (though immunosuppression) risk to wild bird health. Our results inform evidence-based mitigation strategies to minimize anthropogenically mediated health hazards, while maintaining the benefits of providing supplementary food for wild birds. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Anthropogenic resource subsidies and host–parasite dynamics in wildlife’.
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Many human populations are undergoing an extinction of experience, with a progressive decline in interactions with nature. This is a consequence both of a loss of opportunity for, and orientation towards, such experiences. The trend is of concern in part because interactions with nature can be good for human health and wellbeing. One potential means of redressing these losses is through the intentional provision of resources to increase wildlife populations in close proximity to people, thereby increasing the potential for positive human–nature experiences, and thence the array of benefits that can result. In this paper, we review the evidence that these resource subsidies have such a cascade of effects. In some Westernized countries, the scale of provision is extraordinarily high, and doubtless leads to both positive and negative impacts for wildlife. In turn, these impacts often lead to more frequent, reliable and closer human–nature interactions, with a greater variety of species. The consequences for human wellbeing remain poorly understood, although benefits documented in the context of human–nature interactions more broadly seem likely to apply. There are also some important feedback loops that need to be better characterized if resource provisioning is to contribute effectively towards averting the extinction of experience. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Anthropogenic resource subsidies and host–parasite dynamics in wildlife’.
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At a time of unprecedented biodiversity loss, researchers are increasingly recognizing the broad range of benefits provided to humankind by nature. However, as people live more urbanized lifestyles there is a progressive disengagement with the natural world that diminishes these benefits and discourages positive environmental behaviour. The provision of food for garden birds is an increasing global phenomenon, and provides a readily accessible way for people to counter this trend. Yet despite its popularity, quite why people feed birds remains poorly understood. We explore three loosely defined motivations behind bird feeding: that it provides psychological benefits, is due to a concern about bird welfare, and/or is due to a more general orientation towards nature. We quantitatively surveyed households from urban towns in southern England to explore attitudes and actions towards garden bird feeding. Each household scored three Likert statements relating to each of the three motivations. We found that people who fed birds regularly felt more relaxed and connected to nature when they watched garden birds, and perceived that bird feeding is beneficial for bird welfare while investing time in minimising associated risks. Finally, feeding birds may be an expression of a wider orientation towards nature. Overall, we found that the feelings of being relaxed and connected to nature were the strongest drivers. As urban expansion continues both to threaten species conservation and to change peoples' relationship with the natural world, feeding birds may provide an important tool for engaging people with nature to the benefit of both people and conservation.
Darryl Jones is fascinated by bird feeders. Not the containers supplying food to our winged friends, but the people who fill the containers. Why do people do this? Jones asks in The Birds at My Table. Does the food even benefit the birds? What are the unintended consequences of providing additional food to our winged friends? Jones takes us on a wild flight through the history of bird feeding. He pinpoints the highs and lows of the practice. And he ponders this odd but seriously popular form of interaction between humans and wild animals. Most important, he points out that we know very little about the impact of feeding birds despite millions of people doing it every day. Unerringly, Jones digs at the deeper issues and questions, and he raises our awareness of the things we don’t yet know and why we really should. Using the latest scientific findings, The Birds at My Table takes a global swoop from 30,000 feet down to the backyard bird feeder and pushes our understanding of the many aspects of bird feeding back up to new heights.
Intentional feeding of wild birds in gardens or backyards is one of the most popular forms of human–wildlife interactions in the developed world, especially in urban environments. The scale and intensity of bird feeding are enormous with mainly birdseed consumed daily by a range of species. This represents a subsidy to natural diets of birds attracted to the feeders and typically involves novel dietary components. Yet, relatively little is known about how it influences the behavior and ecology of the species visiting feeders. In part, research has been hampered by logistical difficulties of working in urban areas but studies have demonstrated powerful influences on behavior and phenology of avian breeding, the spread of disease, and the structure of avian communities. Here, we compare bird feeding between Northern and Southern Hemispheres as a means of exploring how similarities and differences in avian responses might inform knowledge of this global urban phenomenon. We start by tracing its origins to northwestern Europe and how its expansion has occurred before considering how geographical differences in feeding practices and attitudes map onto bird feeding " on the ground. " We explore some of the major emerging themes of recent interest, including why citizens are motivated to feed birds, whether birds become fully dependent on food supplements, the role of feeding in avian disease transmission, and how feeding changes urban bird communities. By proposing that scientists work in collaboration with the public providing food to birds, we pose key research questions that need to be answered urgently and suggest accompanying experimental approaches to do so. These approaches are essential if we are to improve our understanding of how bird feeding shapes the behavior, ecology, movements, and community structure of urban birds. Our hope is that through such citizen science we will be able to provide advice as to location-relevant practices that should maximize benefits to both urban biodiversity and human well-being, and minimize potential adverse impacts. We demonstrate that bird feeding is important for urban biodiversity conservation, community engagement, and in establishing personal connections with nature and their associated benefits.
Natural features, settings, and processes in urban areas can help to reduce stress associated with urban life. In this and other ways, public health benefits from, street trees, green roofs, community gardens, parks and open spaces, and extensive connective pathways for walking and biking. Such urban design provisions can also yield ecological benefits, not only directly but also through the role they play in shaping attitudes toward the environment and environmental protection. Knowledge of the psychological benefits of nature experience supports efforts to better integrate nature into the architecture, infrastructure, and public spaces of urban areas.
Halting the ‘extinction of experience’, the progressive disengagement of people with the natural world, is vital to human health and wellbeing and to public support for global biological conservation. Home to the majority of humanity, urban areas are the key for engaging people with nature, raising the crucial question of how cities should best be designed to facilitate these experiences. For the purposes of maintaining local biodiversity, intensive development within a small area (land sparing) has been shown to be better than extensive development over a large area (land sharing). Here, we investigated for the first time how different city forms affect people's experience of nature, measured in terms of their use of greenspaces. We selected five pairs of land-sharing and land-sparing study regions with different coverage by greenspaces within the city of Tokyo, central Japan and used a questionnaire survey to determine the use residents made of these spaces. We found the frequency of people's recreational use of urban greenspaces was higher in urban land-sharing than land-sparing regions. Moreover, satisfaction with local green environments was also higher in land-sharing regions. This suggests a potential conflict in the design of cities between the urban form that is most desirable for the direct protection of regional biodiversity, and that which best promotes people's nature experiences and the support for its wider protection. A strong emphasis on the advantages of land sparing may increase the separation of humans from nature, and further reduce public interest in, and awareness of, biodiversity and its benefits.
Females valued wild animals as objects of affection and expressed considerable concern regarding the consumptive exploitation of wildlife. Males were far more knowledgeable and less fearful of wildlife and more inclined to value animals for practical and recreational reasons. Efforts to broaden the scope and effectiveness of wildlife management should consider and understand the influence of gender. -Authors