People have been feeding birds for hundreds of years. Supposedly one in four Canadians buy bird food and/or birding products. The average amount spent is $1,000 a year. The main seed that is offered at bird feeders are sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are one of the most nutritious foods you can feed to birds. Harvested from the sunflower plant Helianthus annuus, they are packed with fat and protein, and are rich in vitamins and minerals, all essential for keeping birds healthy.
There are an average of around 10 species that use bird feeders commonly in the local area, they include:
- Dark-eyed Junco
- Northern Cardinal
- Black-capped Chickadee
- White-breasted Nuthatch
- Blue Jay
- American Goldfinch
- House Finch
- House Sparrow
- European Starling
- Downy Woodpecker
Occasionally bird feeders also attract the predators that eat birds including raptors such as Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks. The increase in the use of bird feeders has meant an increase of these hawk species in suburban areas because these raptors specialize in hunting birds. In the summertime another raptor commonly patrols the campus to eat pigeons and starlings, and that bird is a small species of falcon called a Merlin. A pair of Merlins nested in a spruce tree right beside Brittain Hall in 2021.
All of these species are considered residents because as a general rule they do not extensively migrate to more warmer southern areas in the winter but instead spend the whole winter here.
They are birds that are well-adapted to cold climates. Chickadees have physiological and ecological adaptations for winter survival such as nocturnal hypothermia, the reduction of their body temperature over night; thermogenesis, shivering to produce heat; foraging at lower heights for increased wind protection, and caching, storing food in autumn for later consumption during the winter.
According to Barbra Frei of the McGill Bird Observatory (MBO), Chickadees must eat about 10-15 percent of their body weight during the day to preserve enough energy to last the night. Chickadees fluff up their feathers while shivering in order to stay warm.
According to a recent study by Millikin University, survival rates for birds are 38 percent higher in areas where bird feeders are present, and places with bird feeders have a higher percentage of young birds recruited into the breeding population than places without.
Some people participate in a citizen science project called FeederWatch. Birds Canada is the lead organization in Canada that manages Feederwatch. Between November and April feederwatch participants count and identify the birds that visit their backyard feeders.
When thousands of FeederWatchers in communities across North America count birds and send their tallies to the FeederWatch database, the result is a treasure trove of numbers, which FeederWatch scientists analyze to draw a picture of winter bird abundance and distribution.
FeederWatch data show which bird species visit feeders at thousands of locations across the continent every winter. The data also indicate how many individuals of each species are seen. This information can be used to measure changes in the winter ranges and abundances of bird species over time.
What sets FeederWatch apart from other monitoring programs is the detailed picture that FeederWatch data provide about weekly changes in bird distribution and abundance across the United States and Canada. Importantly, FeederWatch data tell us where birds are as well as where they are not. This crucial information enables scientists to piece together the most accurate population maps.
So, by combining all they know about a species from monitoring data and intensive research projects, scientists can begin to understand why a species is declining, and to make recommendations for its recovery before it is too late. If you would like to participate, go to feederwatch.org
Recent research by Dr Cox and Professor Kevin Gaston, who are based at the Environmental Sustainability Institute at the Penryn Campus at the University of Exeter, found that watching birds makes people feel relaxed and connected to nature.
People living in neighbourhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, according to research by academics at the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland.