Feeding birds artificially doesn’t just change their behaviour, it changes their lives completely, from the number of eggs they lay, the chicks that fledge and the numbers which survive the winter.
This male Chaffinch is looking in prime condition, just ready for the breeding season.
Something else that changes with artificial feeding is, amazingly, the species. The different selection pressures on individuals with different genetic make-ups means some are more successful than others. Scientific studies have shown that Goldfinches eating from garden feeders have longer and narrower beaks than they used to. That’s because the small number of Goldfinches with long, narrow beaks have done disproportionately well in recent years because of the ease with which they could access food in artificial feeders. It’s evolution through selection happening before our very eyes.
It’s great to see evolution happening; like the rest of science, it’s true whether you believe it or not.
Here’s a more muted female Chaffinch:
She’s suffering quite badly from an attack of what looks like Fringilla Papillomavirus, or Chaffinch warts, as I like to call it.
That’s also something ultimately caused by humans as well, as they infect one another on frequently-used bird feeders. This male has it too:
If you feed artificially and don’t clean the frequently-used perches then you cause infection to spread in a way that it never would have before.
It’s the same way that Red Squirrels are killed by feeding them peanuts, because they infect each other with Squirrel Pox virus in their saliva. That wouldn’t happen in a system without people as Squirrels wouldn’t share peanuts or eat one another’s saliva.
The same thing happens with Bovine TB, where fields of cattle, kept artificially close in unnaturally large herds, pass the disease to one another far more efficiently than if they were Aurochs, wandering in small family groups through the woods.
The same thing happened with the spread of Spanish Flu which killed up to 1 in every 20 people in 1918. The factors which made it so deadly? Malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals and poor hygiene.
Chaffinches are wonderful birds. If you’re going to feed them artificially, please clean your feeders thoroughly and frequently.
It’s a shame to see them suffer unnecessarily.
And a very big thank you to every single one of you who subscribes to my email blog posts, views them on aggregator services or clicks on them on social media. Where else would you get someone writing about Squirrel saliva, beak evolution and the death of 1 in 20 people?
Until next time, thanks again.