Once in a while someone asks me why I feed the birds. Usually the question stems from plain old curiosity. But periodically the overtone is: wouldn’t it be better not to interfere? To let the birds get their food naturally, from native flowers and plants?
It’s a fair question. Certainly there are risks associated with feeding the birds. Whenever an artificially large number of animals gather together in one spot, lured by the promise of an easy meal, the likelihood of spreading disease becomes greater, and predators are blessed with easy prey.
So, in an undeveloped, pristine earth, yes – I think it would better to let the birds find their own food.
Unfortunately, that’s not the planet they inhabit. Instead, they live in a world where the Boreal forest, nesting grounds to more than half of the world’s birds, is being plundered by oil companies bent on extracting the tar sands that lie beneath the forest floor, and where (just for example) in 2008, between 8,000 and 100,000 birds died in tar sands tailings ponds.
They also live in a world where, in September of this year, some 7,500 songbirds were incinerated in a gas flare at Canaport LNG in Saint John. And where cats, a non-native species in North America, kill billions of birds a year. And where more than 100 million birds a year die flying into windows. And as if deforestation and cats and windows aren’t enough, in Latin America and Europe thousands of birds continue to be trapped in the service of the caged bird trade. And in the Mediterranean, 30 million migrant songbirds a year are trapped and killed by poachers who sell the corpses to restaurants. Songbirds à l’orange, anyone? (Read more about this disturbing practice).
So … given all the acts of violence we humans commit against the earth, feeding the birds is, in my opinion, the LEAST we can do. And it has a HUGE fringe benefit – one alluded to by Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum in his quote: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love.”
Certainly, it was through feeding the birds in my backyard that I came to appreciate, and even love, them. And that’s what led me to fight to protect their habitat. In my neck of the woods, that means fighting against increased fossil fuel development, such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, and fighting for the development of renewable energy resources. Baba Dioum got it right – love triggers the impulse to protect and conserve.