Millions of people around the world feed birds in their garden.
This is not necessarily a good thing, as Professor Daryl Jones explains in his new book The Birds at My Table.
Meet Daryl Jones, bird feeder
How has planting bird-attracting plants affected birds in backyards?
Callistemons and grevilleas are the usual choice to attract birds and they are a rich source of nectar and pollen. They attract noisy miners and biggish
parrots like lorikeets which scare away all the little finches and wrens and small honeyeaters. So though you might get more birds to the backyard,
you get less diversity, which is not what everyone expected at all.
Parrot bird feeder
Can we get the small birds back?
Sure. Plant grevilleas, but not too many, spread them out, and provide a dense native understory that will give the little birds somewhere to hide. The
aim is to provide a complex habitat that will suit a lot of different species.
How many people set out food for birds?
An unbelievable number! About one in three households in Australia spends money on food intended for birds. The majority of them are feeding meat to magpies,
kookaburras and butcher birds, and seed is also bought for lorikeets, rosellas, cockatoos and other parrots.
What are the problems with feeding birds?
Feeding concentrates birds into unnaturally small spaces and the most problematic aspect of that is the potential for spreading disease.There have been
really serious disease epidemics overseas. If you feed birds on a platform, you have to keep it clean by sweeping it with a brush and washing it down
with vinegar every day.
Do the birds become dependent on the food we give them?
To some people’s surprise - and maybe disappointment - the food we provide is a tiny proportion of their diet. And while it might only be a snack, but
it’s still important to offer high quality food. Mince is a terrible food for meat-eating birds, for instance. Commercial dog or cat food - tinned,
fresh or dry - is the best choice for magpies, while parrots need seed produced by a pet food supplier rather than what the supermarkets package up
as ‘wild bird’ seed.
Do you still feed birds?
Yes I do, but never very much. Our connection with anything wild is disappearing in increased urbanisation, and yet with this simple thing - putting some
food on the end of your verandah - you can get up close to a truly wild, free-flying bird. I do try to be a responsible host for my guests though -
you don’t want them to get sick or have a bad experience.I want them to come back.
The Birds at My table: Why We Feed Wild Birds and Why it Matters by Daryl Jones, is published by NewSouth, $28.