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Feeding wildlife - more than just a national pastime

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Renee Chapman, a doctoral student with Professor Darryl Jones, outlines her extensive research into the motivations and attitudes behind wildlife feeding, comparing Australia and the UK for the first time. In Australia there is an unofficial opposition to bird feeding with a focus on the negative impacts for wildlife. There is very little research into the negative impacts of feeding birds so that unofficial position is based on assumptions. One of those may well be that Australians are really trying to keep the wild in wildlife.


There has recently been a shift to more feeding of wildlife, perhaps a consequence of the spate of bushfires and floods of recent years. Despite the unofficial opposition in Australia to wildlife feeding there is mostly an agreement that research needs to be done on this quite extensive practice. Some 45-75% of Australians feed wildlife whereas in the UK it is around 75%.

People in the UK are aware of possible negative impacts but believe there are many positive impacts, so the practice is encouraged, particularly during winter. In the UK feeding was once confined to winter but has spread to the whole year, most likely as part of a push by the bird food industry. Renee surveyed people online with the help of wildlife organisations such as Birds in Backyards and Birds Australia who supported and promoted the survey.

The majority of people from both Australia and the UK who completed the survey were females in their mid-fifties who had retired. In the UK there was a preference for personal observation, reflecting a culture of citizen science projects over there. The survey also asked which species were avoided when feeding and why. In the UK rats and mice were most commonly avoided species whereas in Australia it was the Indian myna, regarded as birds who impact on other species by chasing them away.

In Australia the top ten birds were magpies, lorikeets, parrots, rosellas, pigeons, butcher birds, cockatoos, kookaburras, galahs and doves. There was a preference for middle-sized animals and birds which were recognised as individuals and could be closely hand fed at known daily schedules. Many people mentioned magpies as being part of their family and virtual pets, one household able to track them over seven generations.

In both Australia and the UK, the main motivations to feed wildlife were to help support wildlife and for the personal pleasure experienced from engaging in the activity. Australian feeders were also reported feeding to connect and interact with wildlife and UK feeders like to feed to participate in citizen science projects and for personal study. The emotional connection from wildlife feeding can be measured using the Love and Care for Nature Scale.

In comparison to eco tourists, local business students and international business students, wildlife feeders rated very highly on the emotional connection scale.
In fact it was their love and care for nature that influenced those people’s environmental behaviours, rather than just having a conservation ethic.
It seems that feeding wildlife comes naturally.

Renee Chapman was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent.
Images are by Renee Chapman. Summary text by Victor Barry, April 2015.

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