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Sugar Feeders and Bird Baths: Are They the Right Choice?
ZEALANDIA Ecosanctuary

Sugar Feeders and Bird Baths: Are They the Right Choice?

Sugar Feeders: Are They a Good Idea?

While it might seem like a kind gesture to provide sugar water feeders, fruits, and nuts to attract birds to your garden, we recommend a more natural approach. Instead of supplementing their diet, it's better to plant native trees and shrubs. Here's why:

Nutrition: Birds have evolved alongside native trees and can get all the essential nutrients they need from these plants. While they may enjoy nuts and fruits, these foods can be like junk food for native birds and can harm their health. For instance, feeding kākā the wrong foods can lead to metabolic bone disease, especially during the breeding season. This disease results from an imbalance of nutrients, leading to various abnormalities, including distorted limbs and 'scissor beak,' making it hard for birds to eat. The disease can also be fatal for growing chicks and many young birds that are impacted are never seen as they fail to fledge from their nests at all.

Disease Risk: Just like humans practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, birds should also maintain some distance. Bird feeders can become hotspots for diseases when numerous birds and different species congregate, or if the feeders are not adequately cleaned. Salmonella and toxoplasmosis, which have been found in at-home feeders, have caused the death of some kākā and pose risks to humans. Native trees, on the other hand, offer ample space for birds to forage safely and rarely attract different species at the same time.

Predation: Centralised feeding spots can attract predators, making birds more vulnerable. In Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, the protective fence keeps birds safe. However, in your backyard, a group of birds can act as a magnet for cats and other mammalian predators. Also, birds are messy eaters, so dropping food can lead to huge spikes in rat numbers around houses.

Behavioural Issues: Birds like kākā are highly intelligent and are accustomed to expending energy searching for food in various places. Easy access to high-energy food can lead to negative behaviours, such as damaging property. Additionally, once kākā are introduced to feeding sites, the news quickly spreads and the number of birds turning up for some food can quickly rise. 

Are Bird Baths a Good Idea?

At Zealandia, we discourage the use of bird baths for several important reasons, similar to why we don’t recommend feeding at home. Bird baths can pose hygiene issues, create hotspots for diseases, and increase the risk of predation. Moreover, there is a potential hazard for smaller birds drowning in baths that are too deep.

The best way to attract manu to your garden is by planting native trees and reducing the risk from predators. This way, your backyard can become a safe and inviting environment for all. 

Find out more about caring for wildlife at home

Photo by Rory Wilsher.

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