SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Does feeding wild 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:

  • Spreading disease
  • Malnutrition if the wrong foods are given
  • Contributing to an imbalance in the bird species, with more dominant birds proliferating excessively
  • 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
  • Assisting threatened bird populations, if the right foods are provided and other birds are excluded
  • Enhancing environmental awareness and love of nature in the human population

Overall, experts agree that it is better not to feed wild birds because of the potential harms mentioned above, however, many people still want to feed birds. If you are interested in helping wild birds, here are some alternatives to feeding them:

  • Consider providing a bird bath with water. A birdbath can be a valuable source of drinking water for birds and a place for birds to bathe. A birdbath should be placed at least 1.5 m off the ground and out in the open so that predators cannot sneak up on unsuspecting birds. It is also important to change the water daily, and keep the bath clean by washing it regularly.
  • Consider planting native plants that are food for wild birds. This provides appropriate food sources for native wild birds, and avoids many of the problems with giving them other food such as bread, wild birdseed, or meat.
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