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Global interest in bird feeding was unprecedented during the pandemic

As the world slowed down and sheltered in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, one unexpected development captured the attention of researchers – the significant increase in global interest in bird feeding. 

Even in countries where bird feeding had not been a prevalent activity, people turned their attention to this activity, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The research, led by Jacqueline Doremus from California Polytechnic State University, Liqing Li from Texas A&M University College Station, US, and Darryl Jones from Griffith University, Australia, revealed that the popularity of bird feeding surged in over 100 countries during the lockdown periods. 

Remarkably, countries with higher bird diversity demonstrated more interest in bird-related Google searches, hinting at a fascinating correlation between species richness and human interest.

Feeding wild birds is a widely popular pastime, with enthusiasts citing its simplicity, affordability, and accessibility, even in densely populated urban environments. 

Pre-existing research had already highlighted a rising trend in bird identification and bird feeding practices in the US and some European countries during the pandemic. 

This new study, however, zoomed out to a broader scale to understand the rise in global interest in bird feeding during and post-COVID-19 lockdowns.

Conducting the research

The researchers assessed the frequency of search terms like “bird feeder,” “bird food,” and “bird bath” on Google from January 1, 2019 to May 31, 2020, aligning these metrics with each country’s lockdown period (generally February-April 2020). Additionally, they used bird species data from BirdLife International to gauge species richness within each country.

The data revealed an increased frequency of bird-related searches during the general lockdown period in 115 of the countries surveyed, spanning both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. 

Interestingly, countries that registered interest in bird-related searches had an average of 511 bird species (standard deviation 400.5 species), a significant increase in bird diversity over countries that showed less interest, where the average was 294 bird species (standard deviation 288.6 species).

Research limitations 

The researchers acknowledge some study limitations. They primarily measured activity through Google searches, so we might not have adequately represented countries with limited internet access or lower income.

Yet, even with this constraint, the study managed to capture a significant increase in bird feeding interest in non-traditional locations, such as Pakistan and Kenya.

Implications of the study 

The experts suggest that the lockdowns likely propelled people across the globe to seek connection and interaction with local bird communities. They express hope that future studies will delve deeper into the global extent of this new pastime and concentrate more on countries that have been less studied so far.

“Up until now, most evidence on bird feeding has been limited to the US, Europe, Australia, and India, however we suspected bird feeding might be more widespread. This is important to know because bird feeding affects bird health and migration patterns,” wrote the researchers. 

“Our study uses COVID restrictions to reveal interest in bird feeding worldwide, and we find that people on six continents, in both hemispheres, are interested in feeding birds.”

This unexpected outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique window into a previously understudied aspect of human interaction with nature, and raises important questions regarding bird health and migration patterns. 

More about bird feeding

Bird feeding is a common activity worldwide where people provide food to wild birds. Most credit this practice with promoting interest in ornithology, and it has played a crucial role in several bird conservation efforts.

However, feeding our avian friends can be a controversial topic among conservationists. Some believe it may lead to an unhealthy dependence on the provided food, disrupt migratory patterns, or spread diseases among bird populations.

One of the most common ways to feed birds is by using bird feeders, filled with various types of food, such as seeds, nuts, or specially made bird feed. The type of food offered typically determines the species of birds attracted.

For instance, nectar feeders entice hummingbirds. Conversely, various seeds or suet may attract other species like sparrows, finches, or woodpeckers.

Feeding birds in your backyard can also provide several benefits to the birds and the environment. It can supplement the birds’ diet and provide vital nutrition during the winter months when food is scarce. 

As the recent study highlighted, interest in birds surged during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. This could be attributed to people spending more time at home and looking for activities that provide relaxation and connection with nature.

Whether this increased interest will have long-term effects on bird populations and human attitudes towards conservation remains to be seen.


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