Increases in the use of bird feeders and the types of food offered over the last 40 years may have altered the composition of bird communities in gardens in Britain, suggests a paper published in Nature Communications. Using data on the bird feeding practices of British homeowners and the diversity of birds seen at garden feeders, the study suggests that the broadening of food sources is associated with a greater diversity of bird species visiting garden feeders.
Kate Plummer and colleagues analysed the responses of homeowners to the Garden Bird Feeding Survey between 1973/74 and 2012/13, and found that the bird species observed in British gardens did not change on a national scale. However, individual garden owners observed a more diverse community of bird species visiting their feeders, with many species (such as the woodpigeon and goldfinch) showing increased feeder use. Urban areas of Britain are consequently seeing growing populations of feeder-using bird species, whereas populations of species that do not use feeders remain unchanged.
The authors argue that increases in the diversity of food and feeder types on offer are likely to have led to greater opportunities for species with more specialist foraging requirements. They suggest that the continuing modifications made by homeowners to their feeding practices have contributed to the changing composition of bird communities in gardens.