When emotion trumps science

Posted January 28th, 2011 by kcorliss. Comments (2).

My buddy, biologist Doug L.,  penned a column recently decrying the old accepted practice of supplemental feeding. It spoke mainly to us in North Dakota with reference to deer and pheasants and made a pitch for habitat over feeding, something I subscribe to whole-heartedly. He also touched on backyard bird feeders and wrote, “…our efforts to feed wildlife, even on a small scale, do not always produce the desired results…” I agree.

Then I ran across this piece from KARE11.com in the Twin Cities, containing the following sentence:

Melissa Block from The Wild Bird Store in Wayzata says the cold, snowy conditions are not making it that much more difficult for year-around birds, but they are depending on the bird feeders staying full.

Maybe. But I doubt it. Ms. Block is in the business of selling bird food so her objective is obvious. But she isn’t alone in this thinking. Are the birds really relying on humans for their winter survival? No.

Full disclosure: I have several bird feeders in my back yard. But I have no illusions about “helping” them survive. I do it because I like to observe birds, not to aid in their winter survival. If you are truly interested in the survival of species, plant habitat plots. It’s all about cover. Or, as I’ve said many many times, Habitat is Everything.

2 Responses to “When emotion trumps science”

  1. Andrea

    I don’t disagree, since it seems that most of the birds at my feeders are of species that don’t need help surviving.

    But, there do seem to be cases where the availability of human-supplied seed significantly alters avian behavior. For example, I was just reading on the Cornell website that more goldfinches are over-wintering further north, largely due to the presence of feeders. (The paper they cited was published in 1977; I don’t know what’s happened since).

  2. kcorliss

    There appears to be some evidence supporting the feeder-wintering range theory. But apart from obvious ones (such as scads of hummingbird feeders at certain southern Arizona locations), I would suggest the number of individuals out of a population possibly affected by feeder placement is statistically minuscule. I would also advise caution when basing suppositions on population location and movements–an extremely difficult (impossible with current technology?) task. Are we really suggesting we understand why flocks of birds move hither and yon? We can make assumptions (which is scientifically thin ice) but we really don’t know for sure.