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Backyard bird-feeders spend millions

Give us our daily bread: backyard bird-feeders spend millions

The first-ever study of New Zealanders’ bird-feeding habits has found more than 5 million loaves of bread per year are fed to birds with an estimated $12.3 million spent annually on bird food, according to researchers at the University of Auckland.

The first-ever study of New Zealanders’ bird-feeding habits has found more than 5 million loaves of bread per year are fed to birds with an estimated $12.3 million spent annually on bird food, according to researchers at the University of Auckland.

But the study also found food put out for birds favours introduced species, such as blackbirds and starlings, over endemic species, with just 17% of householders providing food - for example sugar water - for natives such as tui.

It also found that bird-feeding hygiene habits are relatively poor, with just 8.6% of people cleaning bird-feeding tables and containers appropriately.

The research team, including Senior Lecturer Margaret Stanley, PhD student Josie Galbraith and Associate Professor Jacqueline Beggs, from the University of Auckland’s School of Biological Sciences, found most people feed birds because it makes them feel good.

“As with studies in other countries such as Australia and the UK, we found one of the main motivations for feeding birds was a real hunger to connect with the natural world with people saying it brought them pleasure if not joy,” Ms Galbraith says.

The study found the typical bird-feeding New Zealander is an older woman who owns a free-standing house, is more likely to own a dog and more likely to provide a bird bath.

Using online survey tool Survey Monkey and a postal questionnaire, the study achieved a 27.1% response rate, or 801 replies.

Residents in six New Zealand cities were surveyed: Whangarei, Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Dunedin and Invercargill.

Bread was the most common food provided, along with bird seed, and a significant majority of people – 75% - simply left food on the ground. Of those using a bird table or container, less than half said they cleaned the container at least once a week while 20% said they didn’t clean them at all.

Sparrows were the most common species coming for food while the most common native species was the silvereye.

People who regularly fed birds were also more likely to plant trees to attract birds and although dog ownership was higher among bird-feeding households, cat owners were not more or less likely to put food out for birds.

“Pet ownership may just reflect a greater affinity for animals in general and so those people may just be more likely to feed wildlife,” Ms Galbraith says.

There was no evidence of opposition to bird-feeding in the study.

“Most people had a positive view whether they fed birds or not.”

Dr Stanley says while bird feeding is an important tool for engaging the public with the natural world, the study provided a starting point to identify education opportunities for better bird-feeding practices such as improved hygiene to limit disease transmission and providing food better suited to native birds.

“Although we’ve identified risks for birds in terms of disease and supporting native bird populations, people really enjoy feeding birds and it might well be the only connection city dwellers have to the natural environment,” she said.


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