Bird feeding is an extremely popular hobby.
Every year, millions and millions of people buy birdseed and spend a lot of money watching and attracting their avian friends.
And I am one of these people. I estimate that I spend roughly $400 EVERY MONTH buying bird food alone, not to mention the cost of feeders.
As you can probably tell, I enjoy the hobby immensely, and it has added significant joy to my life. But I’ve never sat down to think of all the benefits of feeding birds, which is what I’m doing today.
I’m sure I missed a bunch, but I was able to think of EIGHT benefits of backyard bird feeding. Some of these benefits are for birds, while many others are for us, the people who feed the birds. My list is organized into these two sections:
I’d love to know what you find to be the biggest benefit. Please leave a COMMENT at the end of the post.
Benefits of Feeding Birds (For Them)
And just to be extremely clear, THEM refers to the birds. 🙂
#1. Feeding birds helps them survive (especially in winter)
When the weather becomes cold, birds need a lot of food to survive. Birds must maintain a high body temperature, and their hearts beat very rapidly, so a lot of energy is required. For example, EVERY DAY during winter:
- Chickadees need to eat roughly a third of their body weight.
- Blue Jays must consume about 10% of their body weight. (The larger the bird, the less amount of food they need to eat in proportion to their body size)
Personally, I weigh roughly 180 lbs. If I were a chickadee, I would need to eat about 60 pounds of food per day in winter! However, as a Blue Jay, I could get away with only eating 18 pounds, which is still more food than I probably consume in a week!
So let’s review a bird’s dilemma in winter. To combat the cold weather, they need a tremendous amount of food to provide energy. But they also must deal with the following two additional challenges when trying to obtain their daily meals:
- There is less food available during winter. Insects are gone. Many seeds and nuts have already been eaten, or they are covered by snow.
- Birds aren’t nocturnal, so they roost for the night as soon as the sun sets. During winter, the amount of daylight hours is hugely diminished, so birds don’t have as much time to eat and find the additional food required.
I hope you can see that it is challenging for birds to survive during winter. Basically, from the time they arise in the morning until the sun sets, they must be looking for food.
Luckily, placing a feeder in your yard is a huge benefit for birds!
Studies have shown that the survival rates of birds increase when feeders are present.
- For example, in this study, survival rates of Black-capped Chickadees during winter was 69% when bird feeders were present, compared with only 37% when feeders were not present.
These results make sense. Instead of spending valuable energy searching for food on a short, cold winter day, a bird can reliably visit your bird feeder full of healthy, nutritious food.
#2. “Feeder” bird populations are increasing
As a whole, birds aren’t doing well.
A comprehensive study of bird populations published in 2019 had some sobering statistics. It showed that since 1970, the overall number of birds in North America has declined by 2.9 billion.
Yes, you read that right. 2.9 BILLION birds.
There are many factors to blame for this decrease. Climate change, habitat destruction, window collisions, and outdoor cats are some of the biggest killers.
But, there is good news when it comes to birds that commonly visit feeders. In general, the populations of “feeder” birds have increased since 1970 (or haven’t declined as much compared to other species).
In addition, the ranges of certain “feeder” bird species have increased, and it’s the consistent access to food that seems to be responsible for this expansion. Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Northern Cardinals, and Carolina Wrens are just a few examples.
The science is pretty clear. For the most part, the populations of birds that visit feeders are increasing.
#3. Bird feeding inspires us to care more about birds
To summarize this section, feeding birds inspires us to make positive changes in our yard and behavior, which then directly helps the birds.
In my opinion, this benefit helps birds the most. And to show you why, I’m going to use myself as an example.
I have been feeding birds in my backyard since 2016. At that time, my daughter was only about a year old. Before we had kids, I would spend as much time as possible hiking and spending time in the outdoors. As you can imagine, this became more difficult with a baby, and I was spending a lot more time at my home.
So, I bought a bird feeder to provide some entertainment and help see more wildlife in our backyard.
But what happened next was completely unexpected. I LOVED watching the birds, such as Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays, visit every day. One feeder led to an entire feeding station.
Watching the birds in my backyard was such a joy. It made me want to help the birds in my yard even more. I hoped that I could initially attract the birds with my feeders but then get them to stick around because of the surrounding habitat.
Since 2016, when I purchased my first feeder, I have done as much as possible to transform my 1.5-acre yard into a place birds want to visit. Here are just some of the things I have been doing:
- Planted dozens of native trees, shrubs, and flowers. I even created a relatively large flower garden to help attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
- Hung nest boxes strategically around my yard.
- Stopped using any pesticides around my house.
- Created multiple brush piles to provide hiding spaces and areas for insects to thrive.
- Let certain areas of my yard grow wild, where before these spots were mowed every week.
All of these changes were made because watching the birds inspired me to help them. Without setting up a feeder, I would not have made the above changes in my yard.
Feeding the birds has helped give me a connection to nature. And in return, I have tried to do my part to make my yard as beneficial to them as possible. Now imagine if everyone planted a few native plants and stopped dousing their entire yard with pesticides, fertilizers, etc.?
Instead of trying to live separate from nature, I am trying to create a backyard space that lives in harmony with nature.
Benefits of Feeding Birds (For Us)
While there are some benefits for the birds when we feed them, it’s probably not the main reason we do it. Because let’s be honest, the birds would manage if everyone stopped feeding them, as they are not dependent on feeders.
At the end of the day, feeding birds is as much for us as it is for them.
#4. Feeding birds connect us to nature
Sadly, as our world becomes more digital, spending time outdoors and immersing oneself in nature seems to get pushed aside. And this fact is regrettable because nature is like the proverbial gift that keeps on giving.
In fact, I’m so passionate about how birds help connect people to nature I have made it the mission of Bird Watching HQ.
Connection to nature has an incredible amount of health benefits. It’s impossible to write about them all here because there are so many. But just trust me, there are a lot. In fact, entire books have been written about the topic.
Personally, I MUST spend time outside daily, or I don’t feel right. Something about being among the trees provides focus, reduces my anxiety, and gives me energy.
I think feeding birds is like a “gateway drug” to connecting to nature but in the BEST possible way. Seeing your daily avian visitors means that you will start looking outside more, which leads you to sit on your back patio to watch and get even closer. Not to mention that refilling your feeders means you have to walk outside every day.
Press PLAY below to see my LIVE bird feeder camera!
In my opinion, it’s hard to start feeding birds and NOT become more immersed and in sync with the wildlife, plants, and seasonal changes happening right before your eyes.
Seriously, just hang a bird feeder up and see the transformation inside you begin. 🙂
#5. An easy way to obtain mindfulness
Mindfulness, which is the act of being aware of the present moment and surroundings, has become an increasingly popular topic.
I know that it’s something that I struggle with mightily. I have a tendency to focus on the future and am always worried about what “might happen,” or I paint vivid pictures of what “could be.” The problem with not living in the present moment is that you miss out on what is happening around you.
I’m not here to sell you the benefits of mindfulness. There are many other articles and books devoted to the topic. But if you want to do a better job of focusing on the present moment, then I’m here to tell you that bird feeding is a great solution!
For example, as I look out my window right now at my feeding station, here is what I’m seeing:
- Four Mallard ducks (2 males, 2 females) eating corn on my ground tray feeder.
- A black squirrel searching for food next to the ducks.
- A Common Grackle poking around for sunflower seeds.
- Two male Northern Cardinals patiently waiting their turn perched in a tree.
Watching and observing the birds and animals in my backyard brings me to the present moment. There is no way to watch what is happening back there AND get lost in my head. This is especially true if you start focusing on the fine details of each bird, such as beak shapes or wing bars, to help identify new visitors.
Setting up a chair next to the window or on my outside patio, positioned to watch my bird feeders, is an incredible form of mindfulness. Even in the few minutes since I described the creatures I saw above, the scene has completely changed!
And if you are looking for some extra motivation to focus on what birds are in your backyard, consider signing up for one of the two following resources:
- FeederWatch: Record the birds in your backyard and help scientists understand bird distributions. Count your birds for as long as you like on days of your choosing, then enter your counts online. Your counts allow you to track what is happening to birds around your home and contribute to science.
- eBird: An online database where you can keep track of all the birds you have seen. Similar to FeederWatch, eBird uses this data to learn about the abundance and destruction of different species. I love how you can easily keep track of the number of different species you have seen in your yard!
Personally, I love using eBird as my online journal of all the birds that have been spotted in my backyard. But you don’t have to go high-tech either. Many people just buy a physical journal and make daily notes about what is happening at their feeders.
Honestly, whether you only take 5 minutes per day to watch your feeders or decide to spend hours detailing every visitor and interaction, your ability to focus (mindfulness) will improve.
#6. Feeding birds is a lot of fun!
As you have already seen, there are a lot of benefits you can expect by hanging up a bird feeder. But none of the reasons are more important than the fact that feeding birds is fun!
If it weren’t fun, then there probably wouldn’t be millions of people who feed birds.
Here are just a few examples of things that I enjoy most:
- Attracting or observing a new species is ALWAYS a cause for celebration. I’ve been feeding birds for many years and still get the chance to see new birds. For example, just in the past year, a Pileated Woodpecker (see the video below) and Hooded Warbler have made appearances. I bet you never thought you could scream for joy just at the sight of a newly observed yard bird. 🙂
- Forget watching soap operas because now you have drama right outside your window! I’m talking about hawks that show up and wait patiently in the trees. Or the entertainment of watching the squirrels try as hard as possible to get up to your bird feeders. Or seeing Blue Jays imitate a hawk call so that they can clear the feeders all for themselves. And the list goes on!
- Learning how to control the “bullies” that use my feeders. So, if you have ever fed birds, you probably know that certain birds and mammals can start to “hog” the feeders. Squirrels, House Sparrows, and European Starlings are just a few examples. I enjoy learning strategies that help control where and how these species eat. Not everyone thinks this part is fun about bird feeding, but I love the challenge!
#7. Feeding birds can provide a community
Between the digitization of the world and the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems people are feeling more alone and isolated than ever before.
And unfortunately, that is a bad thing for the human psyche. For example, let’s consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
Take a look at the yellow section of the pyramid titled “Love and Belonging.” As you can see, after our physiological needs are met and we feel safe and secure, the next thing we crave is friendship, community, and a sense that we belong somewhere.
People are not meant to be alone. We need to connect with other humans. But as we mentioned at the beginning of this section, this sense of community is getting harder to find.
Luckily, feeding the birds in your backyard can help connect you with many like-minded individuals. Just like any hobby, there are many groups, both online and offline, where you can cultivate friendships. It’s estimated that up to 59 million people feed birds in the United States alone, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find some people to discuss the hobby with.
Here are just a few ideas to find other people who have been bitten by the “bird” bug:
- The Bird Watching HQ YouTube channel: We have many LIVE cameras streaming that include a live chat function. So you can talk with people from around the world about what you see on the live cams.
- Local Audubon chapter: These groups typically have a monthly meeting, along with events throughout the entire year, such as bird walks, which is a great way to meet other enthusiasts in your community.
- Check nearby parks and refuges for events: Many park districts have monthly events, which provide a great way to learn and meet new people. The ones near me often host bird walks, which can include searching for owls, waterbirds, migrating warblers, etc.
If any of these options sound intriguing, jump in, and don’t be shy. The more effort you put forth, the better your experience will be.
#8. Feeding birds helps connect my kids to nature
This benefit doesn’t apply to everyone, but it can be very powerful if you have kids or grandkids.
I have two young children, a son and a daughter, and feeding the birds in our backyard has helped teach and connect them to nature.
Specifically, we have a hammock near the feeding station. If we sit there quietly and don’t move, many species will eventually start visiting the feeder, and we can watch them up-close. These experiences help initiate conversations about animals and nature and teach them how to identify each backyard creature.
In addition, my wife, who runs a website about teaching young kids, frequently does bird feeder crafts with our children. After they are done creating a project, it’s a lot of fun to put a pinecone covered with peanut butter and seeds or a milk carton that has been cut and painted in our yard to see if any birds will actually use the DIY feeder (which they typically do!).
What benefits has feeding birds provided you?
Leave a comment below!