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Feed the birds: Winter feeding makes for better breeding

06.02.2008
Keep feeding the birds over winter: that’s the message from research by Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Exeter.

Their study, published today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, shows for the first time that extra food provided to garden birds in winter makes for a more successful breeding season in the following spring.

By providing some birds with extra food, such as peanuts, and leaving others to fend for themselves, the team was able to compare reproductive success between the two groups.

Those that were given extra food laid eggs earlier and, although the same number of chicks hatched, on average one more successfully fledged per clutch. Although it was well known that feeding birds during winter increases their survival, this is the first time that the benefits to subsequent breeding have been shown.

Leading the research, Gillian Robb, from Queen’s University School of Biological Sciences said “Our study shows that birds that receive extra food over winter lay their eggs earlier and produce more fledglings.”

Dr Stuart Bearhop from the University of Exeter, who supervised the research, said “We show that extra food provided in winter helps the birds that take it, however, we are still unclear whether it has a knock on effect on other species. Nevertheless, I will certainly be continuing to feed the birds in my garden for the rest of the winter.”

Dr Dan Chamberlain of the British Trust for Ornithology, a collaborator on the project, added “These results demonstrate that feeding birds over winter can be vital to their breeding success. It is highly likely that the benefits of extra food continue year-round, so don’t just stock your bird feeders in winter if you want to do the best for the birds in your garden”.

Despite this, there is a continuing debate on whether we should feed birds during the spring, when natural food sources increase.

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
Further information:
http://www.qub.ac.uk

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