As a result of the lockdown, many of us had to pause. Consider our gardens, too. One such onlooker was Derby, England-based freelance school teacher Tricia Howlett. At one time, she had noticed the avian visitors to her garden. She hadn’t given them much thought before the outbreak. She started to watch the birds, such as goldfinches, sparrows, robins, and blue tits, as they hopped from branch to branch.
That’s when Howlett began what she calls her “wildlife push,” an initiative to make her garden more inviting to native animals. She introduced additional native plants, put them in a pond, and allowed some sections to become overgrown. All the preparations worked out as expected.
Then she thought about putting up some bird feeders — containers full of seeds or nuts, for example, with perches or platforms for avian eaters. Estimates suggest that over two-thirds of British homes provide bird food, with feeders being the most common method of choice.
However, Howlett ultimately decided against them. It appears to me that it supports the same kind of species coming in all the time, and you’re not getting the variety,” she says. The birds in her garden appeared to be doing OK on the existing vegetation and insects. That’s why she decided to focus on developing those strengths.
That Howlett has turned her back on bird feeders is by no means an isolated incident. Evidence from the last few years suggests that these devices may not always be beneficial, since they may spread illness or help dominant bird species at the price of decreasing ones. Bird-lovers are increasingly faced with the idea of taking feeders down at particular times of the year, or all together.
Alex Lees of Manchester Metropolitan University says, “It seems, instinctively, a decent thing to do,” about the well-meaning act of putting out feeders for birds. However, in a study he and Jack Shutt co-wrote last year, they outlined some of the problems that could arise from doing so.
What we do know for sure is that many [bird] species, dominating species, have increased dramatically, and that is likely due to bird feeding,” Lees says. He provides the example of the willow tit, which has tragically become extinct in Britain while great tits and blue tits — well-known connoisseurs of garden feeders – have experienced considerable success in recent decades.