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Wild Bird Care in the Garden

Bird bathUFAW International Animal Welfare Symposium

4th May 2010, Zoological Society of London

In recent years, there has been a huge growth of interest in feeding garden birds in many countries. In the UK, the amounts provided make a significant contribution to the annual food requirements of many bird populations. At a time when human changes to the environment are a major threat to many other species, garden bird feeding is grass roots, do-it-yourself wildlife management on a large scale.

Whether we like it or not, in meeting the needs of the vast and rapidly growing human population and in tackling the associated environmental consequences, the whole world is becoming a managed environment. Can lessons learned from caring for free-living backyard wildlife be applied more widely to help conserve biodiversity and to avoid adversely affecting wildlife welfare?

The aim of this symposium is to consider these questions and to share the results of recent research and advances in understanding on various aspects of the feeding and management of garden birds (matters that UFAW and others have been working on together in recent years through the Garden Bird Health Initiative. Topics will include nutritional aspects, effects on breeding and survival, epidemiology of diseases, and technological advances.

Programme Details 

  • James Kirkwood (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare) Introduction: the garden bird health initiative 
  • Chris Whittles (CJ WildBird Foods Ltd) The history of garden bird feeding
  • Darryl Jones (Griffith University, Australia) Feeding wild birds: why we need to know more about a global experiment
  • Jonathan Blount and Stuart Bearhop (University of Exeter) Impacts of over-winter feeding on health and productivity
  • S James Reynolds (University of Birmingham) Effects of food supplementation in spring and early summer on breeding performance
  • John Mallord (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) The RSPB house sparrow feeding trial in London
  • Mike Toms and David Glue (British Trust for Ornithology) Provision of supplementary food at garden feeding stations and its value to wild birds in Britain and Ireland
  • Liz Humphreys1, Rob Robinson1, Becki Lawson2 and Mike Toms1 (1BTO, 2Institute of Zoology) Factors influencing disease transmission at garden feeding stations: a national analysis
  • David Leech and Vivienne Greenough (British Trust for Ornithology) Monitoring breeding success of urban birds: the BTOs nest box challenge 
  • Becki Lawson (Institute of Zoology) Trichomonosis – an emerging threat to garden birds 
  • André Dhondt (Cornell University, USA) Dynamics of mycoplasmal conjunctivitis in house finches 
  • Scott McBurney, Spencer Greenwood, Raphaël Vanderstichel and María Forzán(University of Prince Edward Island, Canada) A pilot study to determine epidemiological factors associated with the emergence of trichomonosis in wild finch populations of the Canadian Maritime Provinces


  • P Cammack (University of Cumbria, UK) The use of gardens for birdwatching by birdwatchers
  • A Grogan (RSPCA, UK) Counting the cost of cats – a review of cat related casualties admitted to RSPCA Wildlife Centres
  • MC. Mainwaring and IR Hartley (Lancaster University, UK) Food supplementation and nest size in the Blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus  
  • AW Philbey, FM Brown, HA Mather, JE Coia and DJ Taylor (University of Glasgow and Scottish Salmonella Reference Laboratory, Stobhill Hospital, UK)  Wild bird strains of Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium in garden birds, cats and humans

Report on the meeting

It used to be that animals were either kept, and therefore our responsibility, or wild, and not our responsibility. But now it is not so simple. Because of the size of the human population and the extent to which we use or control the environment, we greatly, and often directly, influence the welfare and fates of very many wild animals. This has brought increasing responsibility for them. Human/garden bird interactions are one of the front lines in the development of this new relationship with wildlife. Having taken over a large proportion of the land for housing, industry and farming, providing food for wild birds is one way of helping to redress the balance. There has been a huge growth of interest in feeding garden birds in many countries but the ecological and welfare effects have received little attention. On the 4th May 2010, in the meeting rooms of the Zoological Society of London, UFAW held what appears to have been the first major scientific meeting on this subject. Among the speakers were Dr Darryl Jones (Griffith University, Australia) who discussed why we need to know more about this subject; Drs Stuart Bearhop (University of Exeter) and Jim Reynolds (University of Birmingham) who described their findings of the effects of feeding, over winter and in spring respectively, on health and breeding performance; and Dr John Mallord (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) on effects of supplementary feeding on urban house sparrow populations. Emerging diseases of garden birds were also discussed. Professor André Dhondt (Cornell University) and Becki Lawson (Institute of Zoology) described, respectively, the epidemiology of Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis in house finches in the USA, and the epidemiology of Trichomonosis in finches in Europe. Liz Coiffait (British Trust for Ornithology) presented findings of a study on factors associated with risk of infectious disease at garden feeding stations.

The symposium brought the need for research in these areas into clear focus. UFAW continues to contribute to work in this area through the Garden Bird Health Initiative.

The Abstracts for the Talks and Posters can be downloaded here.