SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Does feeding birds cause more harm than good?

Feeding wild birds is a controversial topic. Many people love feeding birds and feel that they are helping them but there are also many people who believe that people should not be feeding wild birds at all. Let us consider the potential harms and benefits.

The potential risks of feeding wild birds include the possibility of:

  • Spreading disease
  • Malnutrition if the wrong foods are given
  • Contributing to an imbalance in the bird species, with more dominant birds proliferating excessively
  • Possibly exposing the birds to a higher risk of predation, as birds may congregate around sources of supplementary food, attracting predators such as cats and dogs
  • Making the birds dependent on human-provided food and less able to survive without human assistance

Potential benefits include:

  • Enjoyment for the people feeding the birds
  • Improving the survival of the birds, especially over winter
  • Potentially assisting threatened bird populations, if the right foods are provided and other birds are excluded
  • Possibly enhancing environmental awareness and love of nature in the human population

Overall the experts tend to agree that it is better not to feed wild birds for the reasons mentioned above. However, many people do want to feed wild birds and so if they do it is important that they provide the birds with food that is appropriate and in a way that has the least risk of causing harm. You can find some ideas on how to do this here.

If you want to help birds how about providing a bird bath instead of feeding the birds? A birdbath can be a valuable source of drinking water for birds as well as a place for birds to bathe. The birdbath should be placed at least 1.5 m off the ground and out in the open so that predators cannot sneak up on the birds in the bath. It is also important to change the water daily and keep the bath clean by washing it regularly.

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