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How Bird Feeders are Fostering an Awareness of Nature

Emerging research demonstrates the depth of connections formed between human beings and birds who visit their backyard feeders and how this helps people to be more aware of wildlife management concerns.

Often a connection with wildlife starts with discovering and appreciating the plants and animals found in our own backyards. One popular way to do this is by hanging bird feeders. In fact, this activity is commonplace worldwide and over 57 million households feed backyard birds in the United States alone. Researchers wanted to understand the ways in which humans interact with the birds who visit their feeders.

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Hummingbird at a feeder. Credit: likeaduck

The research, conducted by Ashley Dayer and Dana Hawley of Virginia Tech, sought to understand what kinds of unique changes were occurring at backyard feeders. Ashley Dayer, assistant professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virgina Tech said: 

Given that so many people are so invested in attracting birds to their backyard, we were interested in what natural changes they observe at their feeders beyond simply more birds.”

Recently published in the journal People and Nature, the study was conducted by using a survey of 1,176 people who regularly use backyard feeders. The participants recorded their observations within the Project FeederWatch database, a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The most common observations included witnessing a cat or hawk nearby or an increase in the number of birds present at the feeders. Dana Hawley, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech, highlights how important these findings are for the future of wildlife management as humans spend less time interacting directly with the natural world:  

More and more, we see that humans are interacting less with nature and that more of our wildlife are being restricted to areas where there are humans around. Looking at how humans react to and manage wildlife in their own backyards is very important for the future of wildlife.” 

The participants of the study took an active role in responding to some of the observations they recorded. At the sight of a cat or hawk, respondents were quick to provide shelter and protection for the birds at their feeders. It is also helpful to keep cats indoors, which was the response of some participants. They were also sure to set out a larger quantity of food as the number of birds visiting their feeders increased. In the event that a bird appeared sick, the response was to clean out the feeder to prevent the illness from spreading to other birds. 

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Black-headed Grosbeak. Credit: Tjflex2

This emerging research highlights the innate connection human beings have with the natural world, and how easy it is to make a positive impact for wildlife by doing something as simple as stepping into your ownn backyard. Darryl Jones, a professor at the Environmental Futures Research Institute and School of Environment and Sciences at Griffith University in Australia says the connection formed between birds and humans is truly a close and meaningful one: 

Feeding wild birds is a deceptively commonplace activity. Yet, it is one of the most intimate, private, and potentially profound forms of human interaction with nature.”

The study is a shining example of the inherent depths correlated with bird feeding and the ways in which it makes us more alert to a whole host of natural phenomena. A small, but impactful, emblem of hope for wildlife conservation and management.  

Source: EurekAlert
Featured photo: Hummingbird at a feeder. Credit: tdlucas5000

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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