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Who feeds birds and why: The top reasons for providing food

Children showing bird feeders made at a craft fair at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. Photo by Steve Hillebrand (USFWS).
Children showing bird feeders made at a craft fair at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. Photo by Steve Hillebrand (USFWS).

More than 52 million Americans feed wild birds or other wildlife around their homes. Why do they do it?

Researchers David J. Horn and Stacey M. Johansen of Milliken University surveyed bird feeders in the United States and Canada to find out. The Wild Bird Feeding Industry, its member companies, and other groups funded the research.

More than 1,290 people responded. Two-thirds were women, and nearly 60 percent were between the ages of 45 and 64. On average, participants had been feeding birds for 18 years.

More than 80 percent said they feed birds because they want to bring nature and beauty to their area, or hope to enjoy the sound of birds in their yard. Almost as many reported that they pursue the hobby for the fun of it, or because they want to help birds.

Other reasons: Bird feeding provides therapy or relaxation (65 percent of respondents), it helps people learn bird behavior and identification (61 percent), and it offers educational experiences for children (21 percent).


In addition to bird seed, most participants provide suet and nectar. Women are more likely than men to provide special plantings for birds.

Writing in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, the quarterly journal of the Wildlife Society, the researchers say that people who feed birds aren’t necessarily birders — that is, people who attempt to identify birds and keep lists of species they see. But the authors note that many bird feeders also travel to natural areas, read about nature, and observe other wildlife.

“Participation in the wild-bird-feeding hobby,” they write, “may be an excellent catalyst for engagement in greater levels of outdoor recreation and greater stewardship of the natural world.”

Read the abstract:

Horn, D. J. and Johansen, S. M. (2013), A Comparison of Bird-feeding Practices in the United States and Canada. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 37: 293–300. doi: 10.1002/wsb.281 (Abstract).


A version of this article appeared in the October 2013 issue of BirdWatching magazine.

Read about the healing power of birds in the backyard.


Originally Published

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