Recently, I posted about whether or not you should feed wild birds in your garden. The obvious answer if you like birds, is: of course!
Research in the news today asks the same question in the context of emergent diseases that are afflicing avian populations. Here’s the paper.
The bottom line is they don’t really know. You are assisting wild birds if you put out food and keep feeders and bird tables clean. Some birds lacking food and water in harsh weather would otherwise die. But, if lots of different species congregate on dirty feeders with mouldy or rotten food and guano, then emerging diseases can spread more quickly than they would in the wild and birds might be exposed to potentially lethal mycotoxins. The scientists suggest that recruiting citizen scientists could be important to understand better the risk-benefits of feeding wild birds.
In the meantime, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stress that we should continue to put food and water out, but make sure feeding and drinking stations are kept clean and guano free and any rotten food residues removed regularly.
If you notice lethargic birds in your garden or birds that seem to look dishevelled and don’t end up preening themselves smart again, then you need to remove all the food you’ve put out, disinfect cleaners, tables, etc and not put any more food out for at least a month.