bird feeding at 70*N

Subject: bird feeding at 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sun, 21 Oct 2001 13:09:41 +0200

                                        TO FEED OT NOT TO FEED
        Let me start out by stating that most of the bird feeding done by the
general public IMO is as much for the benefit of the feeders than of the
feedees (probably a not yet existing word). When feeding birds we feel
good, and we have the opportuntity to see these colourful animals (so much
more easy to 'understand' than mammals, as like with us sight is their main
organ of sense) close up. Of course, much of this is subconscious, and must
people who feed birds will tell you, when questioned, that they do it 'to
help the birds'; still, if birds were almost invisible and transparent
organisms who came and ate only at night, far fewer people would feed them,
I'm sure. Most people do not really think over in how far their feeding in
reality is good or bad for the birds they feed, or maybe for other birds,
and here education is, as it always is, a good thing. But I am quite sure
that the general trend to feed the birds around our homes is important in
making people more positively inclined towards nature in general, and this
may just make the difference between success and failure in conflicts
between nature and e.g.economics or comfort. So, I would feel very
ambivalent about any action to stop bird feeding in general.

        I live in N-Norway, at 70*N, as you must have heard ad nauseam these 
years, and here too bird feeding is widespread, both the general type: old
ladies feeding the mallards at lake Prestvannet and the feral pigeons in
town (Maybe the northernmost such flock in the world), and trying to
prevent the gulls and crows from taking the lions share of what is being
offered, and  the more typical 'Caucasian type': feeders of a somewhat more
specialized type in the gardens, here very often filled with sunflower
seeds, and put up hanging, so that the Magpies and Sparrows do not get at
the food so easily. Many people only feed the birds in winter (and there
are intense discussions about whether it is wrong to continue feeding in
the nesting season), and I e.g. intend to start feeding this weekend, now
it looks that we'll have snow cover for the rest of the year.
        In addition to this, there is of course a lot of other man-provided food
in town, both at the garbage dumps, around the fast-food outlets, and at
the fish factories. These have allowed many more crows, magpies, and gulls
of various species than before to live in town year round, and this may
wellhave an adverse effect on other bird species, although no hard and fast
data exist on that score.

        The birds that in Tromsø mainly profit from this garden  feeding are two
species of tits, Great Tit and Willow Tit (A third, the feisty Blue Tit,
seems slowly to expand its distribution northwards, and is now also
somewhat regularly seen in town), and two finches, Greenfinch and
Bullfinch, in addition to the House Sparrow, there where it occurs (which
is very patchily in Tromsø). In spring the Snow Buntings and Bramblings
come to the feeders, when the weather is adverse.
        Would the cessation of feeding have made any difference to our bird 
As this feeding is a quite new phenomenon, at least at the extent it now
happens, we can draw some tentative conclusions. Both the Great Tit and the
Greenfinch are newcomers to this town (as in fact is the House Sparrow,
although that arrived more than 70 years ago), the tit in the 50-60's, the
finch as late as the 70-80's, and for both species the ample availability
of food in winter has probably played a major role for their northwards
expansion. (In addition, Great Tits use mainly nest boxes for nesting, and
the increased availibility of those has no doubt also helped this species
in its expansion, as it helped its main competitor for the boxes, the Pied
Flycatcher. And the Greenfinch is one of the species that has profited
greatly from the now very common planting of coniferous bushes and hedges
that provide nesting place and winter shelter). The Willow Tit and the
Bullfinch, on the other hand, would probably have occurred in the area ,
although maybe in soemwhat lower density, even if there had been no feeding
at all; they are independent of man both for their nesting places and for
the bulk of their food.

        So winter feeding may well have changed the mix of birds that we have in
town during our long and dark winter. I do not see that as in principle
deplorable, and I know that these birds provide many of the people in town
much-needed pleasure and entertainment  during 'the dark period' , the two
months that the sun does not rise above the horizon at all. And I encourage
people to feed the birds during winter, and do not greatly mind if they
continue also during summer, even though then they profit more than the
birds do.
        More in general, I think my idea of nature' does not exclude, but 
to a quite high degree, man and his influences; this is probably still the
heritage of my native Holland, a country of very rich nature experiences
and joys, but where all of 'nature' is partly or largely man-made or at
least man-changed and man-managed. And of what I have seen of Australia,
the influence of man is very great also there, even many places in the
outback; without man, the continent would look very different. Man is part
of nature, though.

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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