[Tweeters] Feeders

Kelly Cassidy lostriver at completebbs.com
Sat Feb 25 09:17:53 PST 2006

As longtime tweeters know, I am adamantly anti-feeder. Since I've already
posted at length in the past about the issue, I haven't jumped into this
reincarnation of the issue. I can't resist a few comments, however.

1. Re: Feeders being a minor component of the changes produced by
development. No argument here. Whether it's cats, feeders, insecticides,
traffic, whatever, it's clear that, if you only attack one issue, all you
have is a scapegoat. People produce so many changes where they live, that
any single one is always a drop in the bucket. On the other hand, as Kevin
Li demonstrated, you can make an impact if you pick an issue (lack of
natural cavities for nesting in his case) and focus on it. You can affect
species compositions, as least temporarily.

2. Re: The idea that feeders replace the lack of food in urban environments.
Yes, it's true that urban environments have a large amount of surface area
covered by asphalt, concrete, and structures. Yet, I think people overlook
the potential productivity of urban areas. Urban areas have huge (HUGE!!)
amounts of water and fertilizer dumped on the surface area still covered by
dirt. They have the POTENTIAL to be highly productive environments without
any bird seed being added to the mix. A lot of that potential is lost
because people put as much energy into removing the biomass produced by all
that fertilizer and water as they do adding the fertilizer and water. They
collect leaves, grass clippings, branches, etc. and haul them off to a
landfill. A few of them compost the material, a process of ultra-rapid
decomposition that releases most of the fixed nitrogen to the atmosphere or
allows the nitrogen and phosporus to run into the local water systems. (Not
good.) Detritus, left lying to decompose slowy, supports the invertebrates
that support many birds, and allows the recycling of nutrients back into the
ecosystem instead of running off or vaporizing. Large woody debris (brush
piles, downed logs, snags) provides shelter and foraging areas. It also, of
course, produces a fire hazard in many environments. That's a problem.
But, to get back to the original point, urban enviroments DO have the
potential to produce a great amount of food. They need not be environmental

3. Re: Human population growth. The 600-pound gorilla. The invincible
gorilla. Do we want all of the earth's primary productivity to be directed
into supporting nothing but human biomass? Based on our collective human
actions, evidently, we do.

4. Re: If we stopped feeding birds, the urban environment would be more like
it was before. I think (see point 1) that so many things are altered in the
urban environment, that, even if everyone tried to maintain a semi-natural
environment in their yard, we still wouldn't have the same species
composition as pre-development. What we might have, however, is more
diversity among urban areas. Feeding produces a uniformity across urban
envioronments that ameliorates climate differences between cities to some
extent. City birds are increasingly similar from city to city. (Yes, I
know, they aren't exactly the same.) I think cities could have more of
their own distinct fauna if we stopped trying to help animals through the
winter, the dry season, or the other tough times and let the differences in
climate produce the differences in fauna that we see in natural systems.
Our compulsion is always to "help" but when we help one species make it
through the winter, we may hurt other species that could make it on their
own, but can't compete with the feeder dependents.

5. Re: The side-effects of feeders. The squirrels, rats, opossums,
raccoons, starlings, crows, gulls, etc. etc. that benefit from feeders or
feeding have undeniable impacts on other species. Many of those species are
birds that don't come to feeders.

Ok, I'll stop. I know that feeding is seductively pleasant. You get to see
more birds. They are easier to see. They produce a more tangible feeling
of aid than a layer of detritus or a rock pile. I don't think the
pro-feeding crowd will quit. I would, however, hope that that more people
would stop equating feeding with bird-loving.

Make habitat, not hand-outs.


Dr. Kelly Cassidy
Curator, Conner Vertebrate Museum
Washington State University, Pullman, WA

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