Bird Feeding is a very ancient human activity, dating back several centuries. It is now a popular year-round mainstream activity and has become a good business too. Bird feed is sold in a variety of stores, where sometimes a part of the profits from sales will go to bird conservation organizations. Bird seed can be bought in large quantities, just like dog food.
There are also all kinds of models of bird feeders available, including plans to build our own, depending on the type of food and the bird species, and on the person’s budget. Some common bird feeders are described below.

There are some forms on 'indirect' feeding of birds by leaving food scraps available for them, whether on picnic tables, public beaches, garbage dumps, fishing areas, etc.

There are also direct forms of FEEDING BIRDS TO ATTRACT THEM FOR PHOTOS, such as with Birding Tours for Tourists in various countries. Here is one example below, off Kaikoura Peninsula in New Zealand:

Wandering albatrosses, Southern giant petrels fighting over fish livers thrown from boat off Kaikoura, NZ - by Denise Motard
Wandering albatrosses, Southern giant petrels
fighting over fish livers thrown from
boat off Kaikoura, NZ
This bird feeder is a log with drilled holes in which beef suet is pressed. It is easy – and cheap – to make. Other feeds such as peanut butter can be used but beef suet is a less processed type of feed. The log is than hung on either a rope or from a branch. Due to the perishable nature of this type of feed, it can only be used in the winter or cold weather during the ‘shoulder’ seasons.

This is where there’s the most variety offered on the market. Feeding birds with seed however needs to be done in a careful way to avoid problems for the birds being fed. Examples: risk of contamination from molds if the feeder is not cleaned regularly and if moisture gathers with the seeds; increased risk of predation by birds of prey or domestic animals around the feeder; risk of collision in windows if the feeder is close to the house; competition from undesired species such as squirrels or raccoons, for example.

Mourning dove eats sunflower seeds from seed feeder hung above - PEI, Canada
Mourning dove eats sunflower seeds
from seed feeder hung above
Feeding the birds by throwing them seeds or bread crumbs on the ground or feeding them right from our hand is deeply rooted in human civilization. Whether it is feeding the pigeons at Trafalgar Square or being the Bird Woman in Mary Poppins, humans thoroughly enjoy feeding the birds.

Black-capped chickadee feeding in hand Summerside, PEI, by Marie Smith
Black-capped chickadee feeding in hand
Summerside, PEI, by Marie Smith
There is a special type of feeder for hummingbirds too, a nectar feeder. The basic nectar recipe is easy to do at home: one part of white sugar for four parts of water, boiled and cooled. No dyes or artificial sweeteners.

Ruby-throated hummingbird male immature, by Matt Beardsley
Ruby-throated hummingbird male
immature, by Matt Beardsley
Birds drink water from any available source in their environment. Many people will add a water source for birds in their gardens or back yards, such as a bird bath, which birds also use for drinking. It is important to keep this water clean, particularly on hot days.

Bird bath with clean water
Bird bath with clean water

TO FEED OR NOT TO FEED WILD BIRDS? That is an important question.

Providing artificial feeding to wild birds comes with a number of questions. (This section does not cover the feeding of already domesticated birds such as the House Sparrow and the Rock Pigeon, although quite a bit could be said about the consequences of their artificial feeding as well.)

Wildlife government agencies
and conservation organizations are unanimous on the recommendation of NOT feeding wildlife, as it makes these animals dependent on food handouts among other problems. Many bird species artificially fed by humans ARE wildlife, so why are we feeding them? Is it really for their well-being or for our own emotional needs (it makes us feel good), or to get good photos and videos of them?

While wild birds feed on artificial food, they are not feeding on their natural sources of food in their environment. This can create problems, such as when seed eaters start to prefer seed feeders over 'seeding out' weeds in the fields. What is the impact of this artificial seed feeding of wild birds on the proliferation of weeds in fields?

The same could be said about suet and peanut butter feeders that attract woodpeckers for example. Woodpeckers forage for insects on trees, keeping pests in check. What is the impact from artificially feeding them on their natural foraging sources on trees?

Some types of bird seed sold in countries such as Canada are not indigenous, i.e. they are from plants native to tropical regions. What is the impact on Canadian birds' long-term health from artificially feeding them those types of seed?

Bird seed does not all stay on the feeder; what is not eaten partly falls to the ground, where birds will eat those seeds. Once on the ground however, these birds might become more vulnerable. Seeds on the ground are also attracting undesirable species such as rodents. And since some conservationists urge people to keep their cats indoors now, this might lead to an increase in rodent infestation. In addition, bird feeders are not always kept clean, the seed can get moldy and diseases such as Trichomonosis (or Trichomoniasis) can be devastating for finches such as the Purple Finch or the American Goldfinch.

What is the impact of artificial feeding on the migration patterns of birds? Does it influence the timing when they leave south for the winter, and when they come back in the spring? The timing of bird migration should be related to the availability of natural food sources along the migratory route, for example some seeds will ripen within a certain time frame.

One well-studied example of the relationship between bird migration timing and a food source is the one between the Red Knot and the Horseshoe Crab. The same could be said about feeding sugary water to Hummingbirds. Does the proliferation of those artificial feeders along their migratory route have an impact on the timing of their migration, for example coming back too soon in the spring, or leaving south too late in the fall?

These tiny little birds have a LOT of emotional appeal for humans, and many are really happy at artificially feeding them with sugary water. Often their feeders will be placed near or by a window - one of the WORST places to install a bird feeder for the birds' safety. Billions of birds are killed by window collisions every year around the world.