How Britain’s backyard bird feeders are shaping evolution

Boris Johnson

European Union, 2014 Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Emma Charlton, Senior Writer, Formative Content


 

Several species have grown in number and overall diversity has increased, according to new research that explores the impact of the nation’s obsession with bird feeders. With at least half of all British households catering for the birds in their gardens, the report enhances our understanding of the ecological and evolutionary repercussions.

“There is a multi-billion dollar global industry dedicated to feeding wild birds in residential gardens,” researchers, including Kate Plummer and Kate Risely, wrote in the paper. “We found that the number of feeders provided in a garden had a greater influence on species richness and diversity than either winter temperature or local habitat.”

 The rise and rise of backyard bird feeders.

The rise and rise of backyard bird feeders.
Image: Nature Communications Research

Gardens account for around one-quarter of all urban land cover in Britain, and support 133 types of bird, more than half the country’s species. An uptick in the range was one of the key findings, with birds that previously rarely appeared in gardens now commonplace. In contrast, no population increases were seen in species that do not visit feeders.

Two of the biggest beneficiaries were goldfinch and wood pigeon, with sightings jumping to more than 80% from less than 20% in 1973. In the 1970s, bird feeders were dominated by house sparrows and starlings, and they are still among the most frequently seen, according to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2019.

 House sparrows are among the birds most frequently seen using bird feeders.

House sparrows are among the birds most frequently seen using bird feeders.
Image: RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

 

While this research focused on the UK, bird feeding is among the top hobbies around the world, and is even marked with an official month in the US. Watching birds is now one of the world’s most popular pastimes, according to charity Birdlife International. The charity notes that in Canada, people spend more time birdwatching than gardening and in China watching birds as a hobby is growing by 40% each year.

The wider ramifications are important as urban population increases and the future of many wild animals comes to depend on how they can adapt and thrive in city environs. The World Economic Forum estimates that almost 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, and its Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization explores ways to embrace this shift.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the future of cities?

Cities represent humanity’s greatest achievements – and greatest challenges. From inequality to air pollution, poorly designed cities are feeling the strain as 68% of humanity is predicted to live in urban areas by 2050.

The World Economic Forum supports a number of projects designed to make cities cleaner, greener and more inclusive.

These include hosting the Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization, which gathers bright ideas from around the world to inspire city leaders, and running the Future of Urban Development and Services initiative. The latter focuses on how themes such as the circular economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to create better cities.

 Britain’s most spotted birds.

Britain’s most spotted birds.
Image: RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2019

As backyard bird feeding becomes more popular, there’s also been an increase in unforeseen consequences, including the transmission of some diseases, like trichomonosis, which can spread rapidly at bird feeders if they haven’t been disinfected. The disease has been linked to a dramatic decline in greenfinch and chaffinch populations in the past two decades.

There’s the potential jump in populations of other animals, too, when they steal the feed, like squirrels and rats, and those that feed on the birds themselves, like cats and bigger birds.

And with the pastime continuing to take flight, understanding the changes it might bring about is ever more important.

While the report underscored the positive influences including better survival rates among birds that visit feeders, it also touched on negative ones like disease transmission and poor nutritional quality of food supplements compared with other sources, saying that further investigations are needed.

“Individual decisions by homeowners to feed wild birds can impact cumulatively upon bird communities across large spatial scales,” they wrote. “This growing, global phenomenon has profound potential to influence biodiversity further and should not be underestimated.”

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

After COVID-19, we must rethink how we find and produce new drugs

Using the quarantine to your advantage

Journey of my life

What you need to know about the European Green Deal – and what comes next

What the Amazon rain forest tells us about globalization

Financing the 2030 Agenda: What is it and why is it important?

UNICEF warns of ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya youth, one year after Myanmar exodus

Is the ECB enforcing the will of the big Eurozone member states on the small? Can the euro area live with that?

European Development Days 2021: driving the global debate on green action ahead of Kunming and Glasgow Summits

New UN-Syrian Action Plan signals an ‘important day’ for child protection, says UN envoy

Stop cooperation with and funding to the Libyan coastguard, MEPs ask

This is how climate science went mainstream

Air pollution: How to end the deaths of 7 million people per year?

As coronavirus spreads to poorer countries, here’s how the world can help

EU Commission spends billions without achieving targets

For resilient, sustainable city mobility after COVID-19, these trends must continue

Coronavirus: Commission proposes update to coordinated approach on free movement restrictions

‘Deteriorating’ human rights in Belarus amounts to ‘wholescale oppression’: UN expert

UN chief hails Libyan leaders’ agreement to hold general election

Women in leadership: shattering the glass ceiling

Coronavirus: Commission adopts package of measures to further support the agri-food sector

Is continuous sanctioning the way to resolve the Ukrainian crisis?

DR Congo: ‘No time to lose’ says newly appointed UN Ebola response coordinator

This crisis cannot be confronted with statistics

A sterilised EMU may lead to a break up of Eurozone

Tackle ‘unacceptable inequalities’ in cancer care, saving up to seven million lives, WHO urges

The next generation is key for a European renaissance

Eurozone officials play with people’s deposits and minds

Free and secure access needed in DR Congo conflict zone to tackle Ebola – WHO

Ending harmful fisheries subsidies would improve the health of our ocean. This is why

In Tokyo, UN chief expresses full support for US-Japan dialogue with North Korea

Russia: MEPs deplore military build-up, attack in Czechia and jailing of Navalny

European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission decides to register 2 new initiatives

Coronavirus: Chinese aid to the EU delivered to Italy

How to make our cities greener, healthier, wilder and fairer

Tackle ‘tsunami of hatred’ across the world urges Guterres, to counter anti-Semitism, racism and intolerance

European Commission issues first emission of EU SURE social bonds

European Youth Forum welcomes adoption of Sustainable Development Goals and calls on European countries to not ignore them!

UN chief laments ending of Cold War-era disarmament treaty

How insect hotels and honey highways are helping bee populations in the Netherlands

‘Historic’ new Syria talks should focus on relief for war-weary civilians, says UN negotiator

A Sting Exclusive: “Delivering on the Environmental Dimension of the new Sustainable Development Agenda”, Ulf Björnholm underscores from UNEP Brussels

The challenge of palliative care in universal health coverage

Microplastic and nanoplastic pollution threatens our enviroment. How should we respond?

Who threatens the lives and livelihoods of Ukrainians?

Ten reasons to be optimistic in 2019

How electrification will make the world more inclusive

Ecocraft: take gaming to another level by greening Minecraft

Will CETA be implemented after eight long years or it will be vetoed by the EU citizen?

To build back better, we must reinvent capitalism. Here’s how

5 reasons why biodiversity matters – to human health, the economy and your wellbeing

E-energy declaration: will energy digitalization be beneficial to the climate?

New EU farm to fork strategy to make our food healthier and more sustainable

The cuts on 2014 Budget will divide deeply the EU

UN chief ‘deeply saddened’ by Ethiopia plane crash which killed 157, including at least 21 UN workers

The future of work ‘with social justice for all’ tops agenda of centenary UN Labour conference

Brain Drain remains a crucial and unresolved issue

Africa is creating its own Great Wall – and it’s green

What does ‘excess deaths’ mean – and can it give a clearer picture of the number of coronavirus fatalities?

State aid: Commission approves Luxembourg guarantee measure to further support economy in coronavirus outbreak

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: