Bird food is a billion dollar industry — but is it good for birds?

A new study highlights the negative consequences of bird feeding.

Credit: Tony Quinn/EyeEm (Getty Images)

If you happened to pick up bird-watching as a hobby in the last couple years, you’re not alone.

The National Audubon Society reported record app sign-ins in 2020, with numbers continuing to rise in 2021.

Per Scientific American, growing interest in birds has sparked a bird food boom — which may not be a good thing.

Bird food is big business

In 2018, bird food was already a $5B-$6B industry globally ($4B in the US). As bird-watching exploded in 2020, sales for bird food followed:

  • Audubon reported increased demand for its bird feeder and food licensing programs
  • Some store owners reported YoY sales increases up to 50%

So what’s the problem?

Putting out bird seed (AKA supplemental feeding) is often pitched to consumers as a way to get closer to nature and engage with our flying friends. The ironic part? Birds don’t need it.

A recent study suggests putting out bird food can actually have negative consequences, including:

  • Disease transmission: Bird feeders have been linked to salmonella and trichomoniasis outbreaks.
  • Reshaped ecosystems: Species that don’t like feeder food have been crowded out by species that do.
  • New predators: Bird seed attracts rodents and other critters, which can result in those same animals stalking out bird nests.

So what’s the answer?

Since no 2 environments are the same, there may not be a perfect one.

Compounding the uncertainty, conservation organizations like Audubon sell bird feeders and partner closely with retailers, which has led to limited inquiry into the issue from the birding community.

That said, some experts claim gardening or introducing natural resources like a well-maintained bird bath are better for the local avian population than adding unnatural food to the ecosystem.

(P.S. Check out this insane ninja obstacle course… built to keep squirrels away from bird feeders.)

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