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Get the facts on backyard bird feeding

January 1, 2019

The BC SPCA generally doesn’t recommend feeding wildlife – but what about bird feeding? Backyard bird feeding is the most widespread and popular form of human-wildlife interaction worldwide, but it does carry some risks.

Seeing wild birds visit your backyard can be a joy, but bird feeders can disrupt populations and also increase the risk of disease, window strikes, predation, and conflicts with rodents and other wildlife attracted to the feeders. Except for liquid feeders (e.g. hummingbird nectar feeders), the BC SPCA recommends only providing bird feeders in winter between October and March. In the spring and summer months, there is lots of natural food for birds. Let your native plants flourish, and follow these tips for a bird-friendly backyard.

Grosbeak bird sits at bottom of bird feeder
Photo credit: Stephanie Watson

When your bird feeders are out,  make sure to clean feeders regularly with a 10% bleach dilution to prevent disease outbreaks. To prevent window strikes, place feeders as far away from windows as possible. Or, if it must be near a window, place it less than one metre away and use UV window decals or tape to prevent injury. Also make sure to place your feeders in protected areas, away from rain, snow and wind. Consult your local bird feed or nature store to determine the right feed for the season and the species.

For your seed and suet feeders, wildlife-proof your feeder, or look to purchase models that are designed this way. Prevent rodent problems by having a dish to collect fallen seed, and make sure to regularly clean up spilled seeds. Remember that backyard bird feeders can also attract cats – you can prevent problems by keeping your cat indoors, supervising outdoor time or buying a cat bib, and encouraging your neighbours to do the same.

Rufous hummingbird sitting at feeder
Photo credit: Doris Janson

Hummingbird feeders

Liquid hummingbird feeders do not attract rodents and other wildlife, but they can attract ants and other insects, and can cause deadly fungal or bacteria infections if not cleaned thoroughly and regularly, or if the nectar is prepared improperly. Hummingbird feeders also have special considerations for the winter. Learn more about how to safely feed hummingbirds.

Feeding ducks, geese, swans and gulls

Never feed birds like ducks, geese, swans, and gulls at parks, beaches or other areas. Some parks and municipalities have bylaws against feeding birds by hand (e.g. bread, rice and other human food) because it is so harmful for the birds. It causes them to suffer from malnutrition, bone deformation and death, creates conflict with humans, and contributes to environmental degradation and water pollution. The BC SPCA recommends parks and municipalities strongly discourage feeding through education, bylaws and enforcement.

Woodpeckers at suet feeder
Photo credit: Bodhi Drope