Photo © Keith Williams
Photo © Jennifer Malpass

Can Feeding Birds Reduce Nest Success?

Many of us enjoy feeding birds, but bird feeders may potentially attract nest predators such as domestic cats, squirrels, jays, and crows. It remains unknown if these predators do extra harm to nesting birds when feeders are around. With about 50 million Americans feeding birds, it is important to understand the consequences of bird feeding on nesting birds, so researchers set out to study just that in two of our favorite species, American Robins and Northern Cardinals.

Researcher Jennifer Malpass and her colleagues at The Ohio State University monitored robin and cardinal nests and surveyed for nest predators in seven residential neighborhoods in Columbus, Ohio. After examining data compiled over four breeding seasons, the researchers concluded the only instance of decreased nesting success was for American Robins in neighborhoods with high concentrations of bird feeders and crows.

The complex relationships among bird feeders, predators, and nest success in human-dominated environments makes it difficult to generalize about whether or not the presence of bird feeders is harmful.

Emma Greig, leader of the Cornell Lab’s Project FeederWatch, points out that this area is ripe for research. “This work is really great. We need to see more research like this in order to get a full picture of the impacts of bird feeding. Even within this study there were both negative and neutral impacts, so imagine the diverse responses we would see if we looked at more species. The time is right for asking these questions.” Read the research summary.