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Mossel Bay
5th Jun 2023
Nature & Nurture

The consequences of bird feeding

For some reason I’ve never been a feeder of birds. I don’t know why: I am not against the practice, although if pushed for a reason I might mutter something about dependency issues and not wanting to encourage a generation of bludgers who may forget how to provide for themselves. (I have a mental image of a bunch of grossly overfed birds slouched around my garden, messing up the walls and carving their initials into my wooden fence posts while they wait for the next handout.) Or I may have explained that I own carnivorous pets and it seems a bit sick to set up a smörgåsbord situation. Whatever – I’ve just never done it.

I was, therefore, fascinated to read that bird feeding may actually be changing the shape of the beaks of some species. The feeding of wild birds has been popular in the United Kingdom since the early 1900’s (there are bird feeders in over 50% of British gardens) and the British spend twice as much annually on wild birdseed than the Europeans.

Researchers recently looked at genetic variations of Great Tits and compared more than 3000 birds from the UK and the Netherlands. They noticed a genetic difference between the British and Dutch birds linked to beak shape. After extending their research to museum specimens and datasets going back 26 years, the researchers confirmed that not only were the British beaks longer, but the length had dramatically increased in recent decades.

The birds’ natural diet in both countries is pretty similar, but the researchers hypothesise that longer bills may be better suited to feeding from a bird feeder. This would give these birds an advantage over their shorter-beaked compatriots.

Just another reason not to feed birds, if you ask me…
Photo credit: www.birds-wallpapers.com

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