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Do You Feed The Birds In Your Garden?

 width= Many of us enjoy feeding and watching the birds that fly into our gardens. We help the birds to survive (especially during the harder times during winter and spring) but might not be aware that, as well as helping the birds, we are helping ourselves too.

Yes, this relaxing pastime has health benefits too!

Studies have found there are many health benefits from watching birds. For example, when officer workers watch birds from their office window, they can become less anxious and depressed. And it does not have to be in a rural area. Just being able to see birds, shrubs and trees can help with mental health issues. The study (led by University of Exeter research fellow Dr Daniel Cox) pointed out that it did not matter what species of bird was being watched. He said: "Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live." The research was published in the Bioscience journal.
This was not the first study of its kind. Previous studies have associated the change in well-being to the fact that people feel relaxed and connected to nature when looking at birds and trees.

My friend in Maine, USA, says

"I'm sure the health benefits of bird-watching are quantifiable. I used to get a great deal of pleasure out of watching the antics of birds at my feeder. A pair of cardinals, not a common sight here, kept a low profile all summer but came to my feeder daily in winter, and were a delight to watch against the white snow. Hummingbirds will engage in territorial battles over access to their feeder. Anything that is relaxing and pleasurable can be counted as a health benefit! But the story did not end so well as Peggy adds this postscript I had to abandon my bird feeding as it was attracting red squirrels, who were making a home in my woodshed walls. They can be terribly destructive, tearing up insulation and chewing on wiring. I couldn't deter them so the attraction of free meals had to go...." [caption id="attachment_30174" align="aligncenter" width="500"] width= Cardinals[/caption]

My own experience

During the summer and early autumn months, the birds in our part of the world have enough food in the fields and hedges to keep them happy and well fed. But when winter arrives, food becomes harder to find and they are only too grateful for the feeding station set up for them in the courtyard garden and even up at the allotment. This continues through spring because that is when the nests are set up and the babies arrive. We feed and watch robins, long tailed tits, yellow tits, coal tits, woodpeckers, blackbirds, wrens, wood pigeons and many more. When we are confined indoors some of the time during cold weather, the kitchen table is the perfect viewing spot to relax and chat about what we can see going on. [caption id="attachment_30170" align="aligncenter" width="500"] width= Blue Tit[/caption] When we lived in Cape Town, South Africa, the "white eyes" were the most common birds to visit. They were primarily fruit eaters and would especially love the Loquat tree when offering a full harvest. Because the fruit are so beloved by birds (and bats too), the seeds get spread far and wide and baby trees easily germinate and pop up wherever they land. Our personal flock of birds also helped to keep down the aphid population on the citrus trees and feasted on berries from the Virginia Creeper during the autumn months. When times were lean, we hung up orange-halves for them to enjoy. The fruit is sweet and tart at the same time and is eaten without removing the peel, making it even easier for the birds to access. [caption id="attachment_30171" align="aligncenter" width="500"] width= A Cape White-eye[/caption] Meanwhile any time we have spent in Southern California has a different bird-watching highlight - namely the humming birds. [caption id="attachment_30173" align="aligncenter" width="500"] width= Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird[/caption] Once you start to feed birds, please keep it up during the winter and into the spring as birds can waste a lot of precious energy flying to your food station unless that energy can be replaced when they arrive.

The Big Garden Birdwatch

Many of us who enjoy feeding and watching the birds in the UK take part in the annual Big Garden Birdwatch (and run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or RSPB) when everyone is encouraged to count those feathered visitors during one hour over the last weekend in January every year. They then send in their tally to the RSPB for their records and research.