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Garden Wildlife Health

Feeding garden birds is one of the most common ways in which the general public interact with wildlife.  It is estimated that up to 75% of households in the UK feed garden birds at some point through the year and the bird feeding industry is worth approximately £200 million pounds annually (1).

Feeding of wild animals on this scale will clearly have an impact on their behaviour, health and welfare and it is important to understand what this impact may be. If many garden birds regularly visit the same feeding area then there is a risk of contamination and spread of infectious disease, which in turn can result in poor welfare, or death, of birds. To help prevent this, in 1998 James Kirkwood (UFAW Chief Executive and Scientific Director, 1996 to 2014) and Shaheed Macgregor published advice on how to minimise the risk of infectious diseases when feeding garden birds (freely available on the UFAW website: Infectious Diseases of Garden Birds - Minimising the Risks).

UFAW has continued to promote garden bird welfare and in 2003 UFAW established a working group to: ‘review the possible benefits and disadvantages to birds and to consider if there is a need for improvements in current practice.’ This working group led to the foundation of the Garden Bird Health Initiative (GBHi), which operated from 2005-2012 and sought to:                      

  • Undertake a major garden bird health surveillance and research project. 
  • Develop and publish guidelines about how to best feed garden birds in order to maximize the benefits for their welfare and conservation.

UFAW and the GBHi produced a freely available leaflet and a more comprehensive booklet (cost £4.99) on ‘Feeding garden birds: Best practice guidelines’. These publications cover what, when and how to feed garden birds, and the importance of food quality and minimising disease. UFAW also ran a unique international conference in 2010 on: ‘Wild Bird Care in the Garden’  which brought together interested parties and researchers in the field of wild bird feeding and management. Dr Stephen Wickens (UFAW Development Officer) and D Dadam (Institute of Zoology) wrote about the topics covered during the conference in the UFAW Animal Welfare Journal, Reports and Comments section: Volume 19, Issue 3.

Typically, birds are the most common wild animal that people interact with in their garden, however, other small animals are increasingly being affected by anthropogenic activity. Reflecting this change in 2013 the Garden Bird Health Initiative, originally founded by UFAW’s working group 10 years previously, expanded its remit to include other garden wildlife and became the Garden Wildlife Health (GWH) project. The GWH project continues to investigate causes of garden bird disease, but also monitors the health of amphibians, reptiles and hedgehogs in British gardens as well. The GWH is now primarily supported through funds secured from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Defra, however, UFAW has, and will continue, to provide support for GWH projects between 2014 and 2019. Research undertaken by the GWH has resulted in the production of a number of factsheets, best practice guidelines and other publications covering amphibians, hedgehogs, birds and reptiles.


Selected papers on garden wildlife welfare published in the UFAW Journal, Animal Welfare:

Morris A. 1997. Released, rehabilitated hedgehogs: a follow up study in Jersey. Animal Welfare. 6(4): 317-327. UFAW.

Brown A and Cheesman CL. 1996. The effect of translocation on a social group of badgers (Meles meles). Animal Welfare. 5(3): 289-309. UFAW.

Other UFAW publications:

Wild bird care in the garden. Abstract booklet of the UFAW International Animal Welfare Symposium, held in May 2010 at the Zoological Society of London. Available online at: https://www.ufaw.org.uk/ufaw-events/wild-bird-care-in-the-garden

Feeding garden birds: best practice guidelines. Written by the UFAW ‘Feeding Garden Birds: research needs, disease surveillance, and best practice guidelines’ Working Group, as part of the Garden Bird Health Initiative (GBHi). UFAW 2005, 42pp, ISBN 1 900630 03 6.

Kirkwood JK and Macgregor SK. 1998. Infectious diseases of garden birds – minimising the risks. Second edition. UFAW. Available online at: https://www.ufaw.org.uk/animal-welfare-publications/infectious-diseases-of-garden-birds---minimising-the-risks.