Who else is benefiting from urban bird feeders?

This illustration depicts the variety of species common in urban and suburban areas across Canada, even if they aren't always seen. Bird feeders can be an attract that creates unintended conflicts.

Understanding the complexities of an urban ecosystem is difficult, particularly when residents won’t actively see many of the animals who call their neighbourhood home. Learning who our neighbours are can impact how we see activities such as feeding, too.

Bird feeders are popular and common across Canada, and are generally welcomed in communities. However, the birds targeted for feeding aren’t the only ones who will be benefiting from a feeder. Birds, as well as animals like squirrels and chipmunks, knock seed to the ground. Even the empty husks of seeds can still be appealing to some creatures.

A small mouse pokes their head out of a hole in a Canadian backyard. Photo by Paul Reeves Photography / Getty Images

Rodents like mice and rats, ubiquitous with most suburban and urban areas, will be attracted to the site of the bird feeder. These small animals who are mostly active at night can escape our sights, but are certainly active.

Other animals who may be drawn by the seed include bears (learn more about bears and bird feeders here), as well as smaller animals like the aforementioned squirrels and chipmunks, raccoons and potentially undesirable birds like pigeons or geese. Many of these small animals (particularly rodents) are high-calorie meals for animals like skunks, raccoons, possums, mink, weasels, coyotes and numerous species of birds of prey, like hawks, falcons and eagles. It will also be common to find outdoor cats prowling these areas, as well as roaming dogs (if any are present).

It’s also important to note that in most suburban or urban yards, another property is immediately adjacent on at least one side. While we often think of our backyards as sanctuaries from the world, they’re actually just another part of a highly complex ecosystem. Fences, be they chain link or 6’ wood planks, are no different to animals than trees, bushes and berms found throughout nature.

A young raccoon (Procyon lotor) traverses a tall fence. Wildlife don't see fences as boundaries - they're just another obstacle like a tree. Photo by seb29 / Getty Images

That means the house at 16 Sesame Street with a bird feeder may not be experiencing any consequence, but the house at 18 Sesame Street with a small white dog who’s let out into the backyard at night (right next to where all that wildlife is being attracted) may experience it. This can also frequently create conflict when some residents begin using traps, be they steel body-gripping traps or glue pads, both of which are inherently inhumane.

Bird feeders aren’t inherently bad, but they can be the source of significant community conflict with wildlife, even if we don’t see it ourselves. Please keep in touch with your neighbours/community regarding wildlife and take down feeders if there are signs of conflict. The birds may miss it temporarily, but they’ll find more food, and come back when and if your feeder returns.

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