attitudes towards bird feeding_hummingbird feeder

As part of my spring 2023 “Wildlife Education” course (Masters of Environmental Science through Slippery Rock University), I conducted a survey/questionnaire that was designed to examine the public’s perceptions and attitudes towards a bird feeding; a sometimes-controversial wildlife topic. Many feel strongly about why they should or should not feed wild birds.

Below are the questions and corresponding data gathered from this questionnaire. 15 people responded to the questions, which were shared on social media and email.

Do you feed birds?

Questionnaire Responses

Question #1: Do you have bird feeder/s in your yard that you routinely fill (even for only a part of the year)? 

Question #2: How many different types of feeders (if you feed), do you utilize? For example, 1 black oil sunflower seed, 2 suet feeders, 3 hummingbird nectar feeders, 1 nyjer thistle feeder, etc… 
What feeders do you have?
  • Out of all of the responses, 16.6% of participants do not have any sort of bird feeder.
  • Of those who do put out feeders, 35% of participants put out black oil sunflower seed (and mixes including these seeds primarily), 20% put out hummingbird feeders, 30% have suet block varieties, 5% put out fruit feeders, and 10% have other sorts of feeders (which includes specialized nut or corn feeders). None of the participants put up Nyjer thistle feeders.

Question #3: What are your primary reasons to feed or to not feed the birds in your community (ie: beauty, ecological function, not permitted to, disease spread, etc…)? 
primary reason to feed/not feed birds_attitudes towards bird feeding
Primary reasons to feed/not feed the birds?
  • Out of those who do not feed the birds, 60% could not feed the birds due to their housing situation (renters, 2nd floor tenants, or HOA does not allow for feeding), 40% did not feed the birds in preference of providing natural habitat and food sources instead.
  • Of those who do feed the birds, 33.3% had an ecologistic attitude towards bird feeding. They wanted to promote biodiversity and to positively impact the environment.
  • 33.3% had a dual attitude of ecologistic and naturalistic. They wanted to not only promote positive environmental impacts, but also enjoy the act of bird or wildlife watching.
  • 25% had a naturalistic attitude towards bird feeding. Their primary reason for feeding birds was to watch and experience the wildlife up-close.
  • 8% had a moralistic attitude towards feeding the birds. They wanted to promote the bird’s welfare and found it to be an ethically responsible action to take.

Where did you hear about this disease outbreak from?
Question 4: In 2020, there was a disease outbreak in eastern US bird populations. Scientists asked the public to remove all bird feeders to reduce disease spread while they worked to determine the cause of the disease. In September 2021, this recommendation was lifted as cases fell and feeders weren’t found to be the primary culprit. Were you aware of this issue (regardless of if you feed birds or not)? If so, where did you hear about it from?
  • 66.6% of participants were aware of the issue. 90% of those who did hear about it removed their bird feeders or took personal action. 10% of those who did hear about it kept their feeders up or did not take personal action.
  • Out of those who did hear about it, 71.4% heard about it through social media platforms. 28.5% heard about it through bird-friendly and wildlife organizations email notifications. 14.2% heard about it through word of mouth.
  • 33.3% of participants were not aware of the issue.

Question 5: List 10 bird species (does not have to be songbirds) that you see commonly in your community at any point throughout the year. If you cannot list 10, please list as many as possible
  • 46.6% of participants could name 10+ individual bird species that frequent their community. 53.3% of participants could name between 6-9 individual bird species that frequent their community.
  • 73% of participants listed seeing the Northern Cardinal, 66.6% mentioned the crow, 60% mentioned the American Goldfinch and the Blue Jay, 53.3% mentioned the Red-tailed Hawk and the American Robin.
  • Outliers (birds mentioned only once) include the American Woodcock, Black Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Killdeer, and the Bald Eagle. 

Question 6: On a scale of 1-10, how important do you think it is to feed birds as a method of conserving native bird species.
bird feeding as method for conserving bird populations_attitudes towards bird feeding
Question 7: In your opinion, rank the following personal, at-home actions on a scale of 1-5, where 1 is least important and 5 is most important, for protecting local bird populations. The at home-actions listed to rate were: Setting up bird feeders, creating native gardens, protecting birds from window strikes, providing baths/water, and keeping pet cats inside.
  • A majority of respondents believe that planting/creating native gardens is the most valuable method of conserving bird populations at home.
  • A majority of respondents believe keeping pet cats inside is the least important method of conserving bird populations at home.

What Does this Tell Us?

By analyzing the public perceptions and attitudes towards bird feeding, environmental educators and science communicators can better tailor our programs and content to address concerns and relevant issues. For example, I was pleased by how many people could identify birds by sight in their community, but concerned by the seeming lack of regard/knowledge for the importance of keeping pet cats indoors. Instead of hosting more “bird ID” programs, I can host more bird conservation at-home programs (and create more educational content) addressing the impact that feral and pet cats have on the decline of bird species. People also seem to value gardening more than setting up feeders, which can direct what sort of information I include during native gardening programs.

By understanding people’s motivations and attitudes towards birds (naturalist, ecologistic, moralistic, etc…) I can also create content that attracts more people and works in line with their ideals. In order to effectively communicate, I need to know what is important to the public!

attitudes towards bird feeding_hummingbird feeder

1 Comments on “Public Perception & Attitudes Towards Bird Feeding”

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