Setting out bird feeders stocked with fresh seeds is a common practice among bird lovers and nature appreciators. But would you actually be doing local birds any favors by handing out these tasty treats?
Most would answer the question above with an undeniable “yes.” But as a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE points out, the answer may not be as black and white as it seems.
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"Bird feeding has become increasingly popular in the UK and throughout much of the world in recent decades," explained Professor Jon Blount, the study’s senior author from the University of Exeter. "However, its impacts are still poorly understood."
To learn more, the curious researchers allegedly surveyed bird feeders scatted across their campus to observe bird behavior. Captivatingly, most instances revealed larger birds expressing dominance over smaller ones by taking all the best food for themselves and leaving the unpreferred scraps for the smaller birds.
"Bird feeders create a concentrated food source which can result in more quarrels between individuals of different species, which we predicted would lead to the formation of a dominance hierarchy," Blount continued.
"Our findings show that larger, heavier species get better access to food, so if the aim of bird feeders is to benefit all species, we need to investigate ways to achieve this, such as different mixes of foods and feeder designs."
In most cases, smaller birds were unsatisfied with their treatment at the bird feeders and retreated, leaving the larger birds to feast to their hearts’ content. Given the circumstances, bird feeders may not help smaller birds at all, but rather serve as all-you-can-eat buffets for larger birds that likely don’t need the extra food to begin with.
The findings are too preliminary to make any definite claims, but they could go on to spur more studies outside of the researchers’ limited campus. Perhaps additional research could go a long way to understanding whether bird feeders have any substantial impact on birds or if it’s all just a scam for the fatter birds to engorge themselves even more.