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Opinion: Tales from the dump

To feed, or not to feed the birds? That is the question.

To feed, or not to feed the birds? That is the question.

A little while ago, I came across a confrontation on social media, between two groups, the pro-feeders, and the anti-feeders. It wasn’t a debate, discussion or even an argument, it was two radically-opposed cults hurling insults, outrageous claims and abuse at one another. Who could have predicted that such a seemingly benign activity, could lead to such radical positions?

The trouble is some people do get carried away and a hobby turns into an obsession. On the pro-feeder side, one fellow posted a picture of his back yard which contained twenty or thirty feeders of all sizes and types. He also proudly listed all the food he put out for his feathered friends. Fruits, vegetables, seeds, peanuts, food scraps, day-old bread and suet. It took him an hour or two every day, just preparing and putting out this smorgasbord. It also must have cost him hundreds of dollars per month.

On the other side, someone claimed feeding the birds was akin to a sin and would land you in ecological purgatory. Not only that, it contributed to global climate change, economic disparage, starvation, plagues, pestilence, and famine. A single crust of bread given to a hungry raven or duck could lead to the end of the world as we know it.

Just for fun, I did a little search on the Internet and on Wikipedia came across an interesting bit of information. Apparently 55 million Americans regularly feed the birds. They spend a staggering 3 billion dollars on bird feed every year and another 800 million on bird feeders, houses, birdbaths and other things. Wow! That makes one stop and think for a moment.

On the one hand feeding the birds does give people pleasure and draws them closer to nature. Those are good things and as long as they feed in moderation, I think it helps the environment, it’s the excesses we have to be careful with.

Humans and birds have been interacting for a long time and it is normal and natural for people to feed them occasionally. You stop for a meal out in the bush. Cook up a good meal and toss the occasional bone to a whisky jack that comes to visit. Truth-be-told though, whiskey jacks long-ago learned that humans sometimes hand out food so they will check out camps and places humans eat, like picnic spots, hoping for a handout.

Other birds, like scavengers, know humans mean hand-outs so ravens and gulls have been feeding from human garbage dumps or midden piles for centuries. Other birds are attracted to humans because we plant flowers, vegetables, fruit trees and grains. So, the relationship between some bird species and humans goes back a long long way and we have actually evolved together.

After all, putting food out for the birds is probably how we ended up with domestic chickens, not to mention eggs. We also farm turkeys, quail, Cornish game hens, ducks, and geese. Apparently its okay to feed critters we consider farm animals or domesticated but not wild ones. Unless of course the wildlife lives in our cities, and they are freeloading off of us.

So, in the great debate of should people feed the birds or not, I would say if it is done in moderation, why not. It is a part of human culture and heritage and brings some people closer to nature. I bet if you count the number of scavenger birds in a community it would give you an idea of how much food is being thrown away. The scavengers do help keep our communities clean. So, long live the birds!