Feeding backyard birds

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Alex Rogers
Alex Rogers's picture
Feeding backyard birds

Hi all - new member Alex here. It seemed there was some hiatus in the forum when I joined that has now been resolved - looking forward to joining your conversations about AU birds. 

I'll kick off with a backyard bird topic - what is your experience with / attitude towards feeding backyard birds? I've noticed the default opinion in Australia seems to be very anti-feeding - but am currently reading The Birds At My Table, which gives an in-depth and rather more nuanced look at the subject than the default "don't feed birds, it is bad for them" view so prevalent in Australia

I live in Sydney, near a lovely little reserve full of birds, and we are trying to encourage more in our garden. We are gradually replacing exotics (palms, yucca, spiky things with no shelter) with natives (grevillias, shrubs, shelter plants) in an effort to encourage smaller birds to visit. We used to have many more small birds visit - but unfortunately we have a large contingent of Common Mynah and (worse) Noisy Miners that discourage all but the larger birds. I'm hoping that as the shelter bushes grow larger, we would then see more small birds using them to access the grevilleas etc - but had also been considering some level of feeding to encourage them

We do put out the occasional (once or twice a week) apple in a tree for the rainbow lorikeets. 

I think my real motivation for providing attractive shelter and some food for the birds is selfish - I dont think it really helps them, nor do I think it harms them - it is so that we have a garden full of birds for us to enjoy. 

What is your take? Do you feed birds? Do you think it a problem? Do you think we are wasting our time given the Noisy Miner issue? 


dwatsonbb's picture

Hi Alex, your “Common Myna” is an introduced feral species, also known as the Indian Myna, while the Noisy Miner is I believe native species. People often confuse the two. They can also be considered pest.

As for feeding, I believe you answered your own question when you said your “motivation is selfish”. Personally I do not feed birds, or encourage others to feed them. There is some research from North America which suggests some artificial feeding is in fact preventing the extinction of some species (in danger mostly due to homo sapien’s interferance - habitat destruction etc.)

Glad to hear your replacing exotic species with natives, hopefully your work will pay off.

Welcome to BIBY. I hope to see more of your photos (the one above is a beauty).

Dale Huonville, Tasmania

Woko's picture

You raise some interesting questions, Alex. And, by the way, welcome to Birds in Backyards. 

I support much of what Dale has said. My view is that the best way to feed native birds is to re-establish, as far as possible, the original native vegetation of the area in which you live. Native birds have evolved over aeons with this vegetation & each depends on the other in a wonderful ecological relationship. Sadly, we humans seem intent on wiping out as much as we can so it behoves, I guess, the few humans who are concerned about the natural world to protect & restore as much of it as possible. 

I admire your self awareness in acknowledging your motivation for providing shelter & food for the birds. But if you can provide natural habitat for the birds while enjoying their presence it becomes a win win as they say in corporatese. 

The Noisy Miner has developed an undeservedly bad reputation among many people. This species is advantaged by the clearing of native understory plants thus creating open woodland habitat, its preferred place of residence. So the bad reputation needs to be attached to those clearers of native understory, not the Noisy Miners. Your growing of understory in your garden is a good step in redressing this terrible environmental practice. 

Of course, Common Mynas are a feral species & need to be discouraged & eradicated. If your local council doesn’t have traps for Common Mynas then your pressure on them to provide such traps will be important. Meanwhile, you can discourage Common Mynas by blocking any access to nesting cavities, especially in buildings, destroying their nests where they’ve gained ingress & keeping a property free of food they can eat & rubbish they can use for nesting material. Encouraging your neighbours to go forth & do likewise would be helpful, too. 

If you would like to read more about the pros & cons of artificially feeding birds simply type <artificial feeding of birds> in the search box near the top of this page. At least some of this material will vary considerably from what is proposed in The Birds at My Table. Personally, the only justification I can see for artificially feeding birds is where the survival of a species on the brink of extinction depends on it. 

All the best, Alex, & I look forward to more of your contributions. 

sue818's picture

Hi Alex, welcome. I don’t feed birds but do have a bird bath. You may find a water source just as rewarding & easily added to the garden plan.


Alex Rogers
Alex Rogers's picture

Thanks for the welcome all, and for the considered comments, appreciated. 

I've finished The Birds at my Table and drew my own conclusions - the chapter on how feeding stations act as a vector for terrible diseases sealed it for me. Doesn't seem worth it apart from special circumstances. 

@dwatsonbb - thanks for the welcome Dale. Yes, certainly appreciate the difference between Mynas and Miners, I guess my point was that the Noisy Miner are even more repressive to other species (in my neighbourhood) than the Mynas. Re photographs, I'm an enthusiastic beginner bird photographer, and one of the main reasons for joining was the photo section here (less formal than the Birdlife Photography section - but it seems defunct with not much having happened for a couple of years. I'd love to post photos for enjoyment / critique if that would go down well here. 

@Woko - thanks for that info - yes, I quite admire the Noisy Miners, but they are in plague proportions in our neighbourhood (due to habitat/vegetation change as you say) and make life difficult for just about all the other birds. More understory shoud help. As for the Myna plague - I'd happily eradicate the lot, but the evidence out there seems to indicate that absence quickly draws in more. Yes, we discourage them by blocking eaves etc. Our council acknowledges the issue, and has chosen to tackle it by bushland regeneration - which seems sensible. I've been reading your posts on regeneration, a particular interest of mine - lots of good things for me to learn, thanks

@sue818 - thanks for the welcome. Yes, we have a bird bath, the bigger and bolder birds love it (wattlebirds especially) - I think I need to move it closer to shelter once that grows up, so the little birds get a chance too. 

dwatsonbb's picture

Hi again Alex.

Whilst there are some exceptional photographers here, the whole concept of BIBY is for anyone to post their best, or sometimes not even your best photo if it’s something you think others would like to see. It’s not a competition. 

Generally members here are encouraging, and if you want advice , some will be happy to oblige.

I think the idea is to have some fun, and constructive comments and encouragement can only help.

Dale Huonville, Tasmania

sue818's picture

I agree with Dale. Post and enjoy. There were some amazing photographers posting when I started but they were always supportive. Some of my pics have been terrible but with time & experience, they have improved. Good light makes all the difference along with plenty of practice. Just get out there & enjoy yourself. Post if you think it is interesting & enjoy the feedback. 

Alex Rogers
Alex Rogers's picture

OK, great, will do. I've also suggested a new photo challenge here http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/forum/Big-Year-Challenge-any-interest if anyone else would like to play :-) 

Holly's picture

Also a heads up that Darryl has a second book coming out this (or next month). It is called ' Feeding the Birds at Your Table: A guide for Australia'. It is a set of guidelines to for people on how to feed responsbily. 


I've had many discussions with Darryl on the topic of bird feeding and totally understand his motivations for the book. Feeding is an INCREDIBLY divisive topic, but in the 50+ years of so of telling people 'no' - a huge number of people still do it. That connection to nature that it gives people is so important to have, but we need to help people do it responsibly (and in my experience, people who feed birds do want to help).  Darryl has taken a look at the research, spoken to many many other researchers, vets, carers etc in pulling together these guidelines. 

An advance copy arrived in my letterbox this morning - and there is a section on bird-friendly gardening too! 


Even if you are very anti-feeding, I would encourage you to take a read of both of the books. It may not change your mind, but it is worth considering.


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