Bird feeders can affect bird evolution

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It’s an interesting thought but bird feeders appear to have affected the evolution of some birds. Researchers at Oxford University discovered that the beaks of British tits had changed over a relatively short time. They have put this down to the effect of feeders. Evolution has provided these birds with a better grip on nuts through the mesh because of a modification of their beaks. They, accordingly, are better able to survive, thrive and proliferate.

Goldfinch use bird feeders a lot.
Goldfinch use bird feeders a lot. Photo in public domain.

A study has concluded that there has been a profound biodiversity effect on birds in Britain since the 1970s by simply putting out bird feeders containing nuts. This is a new source of food for birds and it is estimated that 196 million birds annually feed on bird feeders. As a result it has changed birdlife in British gardens mainly for the better.

Bird feeders have provided a massive increase in the available food for birds. Dr Kate Plummer of the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Exeter used information from 40 years to show us the effect that they have had. She says that it may have altered the development of the species of bird using feeders. Goldfinches are spotted at 80% of feeders nowadays whereas in the 1970s the figure was 10%. Sparrowhawks are seen 60% of the time whereas in the 1970s they were almost absent from feeders. A similar story concerns the spotted woodpecker.

Dr Plummer said:

“Decisions by homeowners to feed wild birds can have a cumulative effect upon bird communities. As such this growing, global phenomenon has profound potential to influence biodiversity.”

Dr Kate Plummer

There is evidence that birds are adapting and by a large feeding birds through feeders is a good thing and it is something people can do to contribute positively to wildlife.