I guess that, to one extent or another, we all feed birds. And we all have our motivations for doing so. What is yours? It is quite compelling to realize that the general health of a group of birds during a harsh winter is enhanced by my feeder and my efforts. It gives me a “good all over” kind of feeling.
However, when my Evolutionary Biologist education struggles out from my archived memories, I lose my certitude. “My” House Finches share a species specific genetic identity that has been honed by eons of environmental factors which have included harsh winters. Call it a “toughness factor” if you wish. Simply put, the individuals lacking this factor often fail to survive and their genetic information does not persist in the species. That’s just Evolution 101. So, by feeding my group of House Finches, I am contributing – however slightly – to the dilution of the “toughness factor” in the genetic identity of House Finches. Put in a different light, I am a very subtle factor in habitat change. I can expand that thinking to climate change, urbanization and more. It’s a wonder I sleep at night.
Am I suggesting that we all shut down our feeders? Of course not! Consider the flip side of this. It works a bit like dominoes. People all over the world feed birds. This, in turn generates a real love and appreciation of birds. We tend to want to protect what we love and this extends to attitudes about bird populations. And so, we feel somewhat compelled to enhance the welfare of birds and this generally takes the form of habitat protection. This often translates into bird people protesting anti-environmental issues with their lawmakers. Perhaps the Alaskan wilderness will be preserved because people in the lower 48 feed birds. Did you ever wonder if lawmakers feed birds?
Audubon National has a fascinating article that deals with this in the context of baiting birds – owls in particular – and how it might affect a species. http://www.audubon.org/news/why-baiting-owls-not-same-feeding-backyard-birds .