Backyard Bird Feeding: Why Feed Birds?

Updated: Jan. 11, 2023

A birdwatcher explains why he loves bird feeding. Plus readers share the touching and entertaining reasons they keep feeders full.

Bird Feeding: Why Does It Matter?

To the uninitiated, birding and bird feeding might seem like an absurd waste of time, money and energy.

From a practical standpoint, my passion for birds does seem a bit silly. I go to extraordinary lengths to watch, feed, photograph and be in the presence of birds. So I’m starting to ask myself one question—why?

I had a college professor who provided me with some insight into this passion. I remember talking to him as he admired a flock of 10,000 western sandpipers swirl in the air. As he stared upward at the mass of birds, he said, “Every western sandpiper in the world could go extinct tomorrow, and we would feel no economic impact of that loss. But what would be lost is beauty.”

Conservationists are constantly trying to put the importance of wildlife, wilderness and nature into economic terms. As though the dollar value of a flock of shorebirds or the birds at my feeders is all that matters.

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black oil sunflower seedCourtesy Mel Lockhart
Tufted titmouse

This, I now realize, is utter nonsense. What makes birds valuable, what makes them worthy of our protection, is their inherent beauty. It is their beauty that enriches our lives, not their economic value. And this enrichment is priceless.

In this age, the noise of televisions, computers, radios, and the Internet constantly surrounds us. Buried in this cacophony, we are far removed from the natural world. Yet, part of me yearns for that connection. Birds are my solution to this.

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Feed Birds for a Connection to Nature

bird feedingCourtesy Barbara Bowers
House sparrows

Birds are everywhere. I can admire migrant songbirds moving through city parks, and finches, robins and blackbirds in suburban backyards.

Yet no matter how familiar they may be, they are subjected to wind, rain, snow, cold, predators and the trials of migration. Hold no doubt, birds are wild animals, and through them we can regain a thread of connection to their wildness.

Therein lies the answer to why I participate in this seemingly pointless activity. It is part of a struggle to maintain a connection to the wild. I invite these small, feathered, wild things into my yard and into my life with bird feeders full of seed. I wander into the birds’ habitats—forests, beaches, mountains and wetlands—to experience their beauty on their terms.

These explorations restore balance to my life, and finding that balance is more reason than I need to justify my passion for bird feeding.

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Readers Share Their Reasons for Bird Feeding

bird feedingCourtesy Sheryl Fleming
Black-capped chickadee

I feed birds as a tribute to my late mother, who adored them. Whenever I see a visitor at my feeders, it immediately makes me think of her and smile, says Karen Clark of Boiceville, New York.

I fill my mother-in-law’s feeder so she can still watch them out the window. She has Alzheimer’s disease and can’t always remember that they are called birds, but they always make her happy, says Michelle Plumley of Hamlin, West Virginia.

Bird feeding is educational, plus you never know when a once-in-a-lifetime bird will show up, says Thomas Perchalski of Melbourne, Florida.

Because it’s a great show! I enjoy everything from watching them feed their young to squabbles over the food. They are so agile, cautious and colorful, says Pamela Rupp of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Pine siskins at feederMaria Polito
Readers love feeding birds like these pine siskins.

So I can participate in Project FeederWatch. The citizen science project turns my love of bird feeding into scientific discoveries, says Joanne Thomas of Bayonne, New Jersey.

I raise butterflies, so I keep my feeders full to distract the birds. They’re less likely to see and eat the butterflies I release if they’re distracted, says Tiffanie Herring of Grimseland, North Carolina.

Next, learn how to how to choose sunflower seeds for birds.