Winter Feeding Makes for Better Breeding

Posted on Friday 15th February 2008

Extra food we provide for garden birds in winter makes for a more successful breeding season in the Spring, according to research carried out by the University of Birmingham. 

In the study birds that were provided with extra food such as peanuts laid their eggs earlier and produced more fledglings.  Although it is well known that garden feeding helps many birds survive the winter, this is the first time that the benefits of winter feeding have been shown. 

Dr Jim Reynolds, investigator from the University’s School of Biosciences, says, ‘By providing some birds with extra food such as peanuts and leaving other birds to fend for themselves, we were able to compare productivity between the two groups.  Those that were given extra food laid their eggs earlier and although they produced the same number of chicks, an average of one more per brood successfully fledged.’

UK and US households provide over 500,000 tonnes of food for garden birds each year.  Despite this, it is open to debate whether there are benefits in continuing to feed birds in spring when natural food sources become available.  This research shows that birds benefit from winter feeding well into the breeding season, which starts in March for most UK birds. 

Dan Chamberlain from the British Trust for Ornithology, a collaborator on the project, says, ‘These results demonstrate that feeding birds in gardens over winter can be vital to their breeding success.  It is 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.’

Now this research has shown the long-lasting benefits of supplementary food provided to garden birds in the winter, the Birmingham team continues to investigate the behavioural, nutritional and energetic effects of protracted feeding in the spring and early summer.

Ends

Notes to Editors

This study was carried out in conjunction with University of Exeter, Queen’s University Belfast, Central Science Laboratory and the British Ornithology Trust.  Food and nest boxes were provided by Gardman Ltd.

Tim Harrison of the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences is co-author in this study.

For further information

Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164