Killing them with kindness

15 August 2018


One of the (many) joys of living or working within the City of Melville and the wider Perth region is the abundance of wildlife we frequently encounter within our local environment. The City of Melville alone is home to about 200 different native vertebrate animal species; including bats, possums, snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs, however more than two thirds of our total fauna diversity is represented by birdlife; including bushland birds, wetland specialists, migratory birds and foreshore species.

Due to their diversity and prevalence, birds are often thought to be good indicators of environmental health and environmental change. Habitat change, such as deforestation, pollution and climate change is thought to be the greatest threat to biodiversity; however despite increased urbanisation, many bird species have remained prolific within built-up areas. The persistence of birdlife in urban areas is thought to be due in part due to their adaptability and behaviour and in particular their social or opportunistic nature.

Within the Perth urban sprawl, there are a number of significant natural areas and reserves which are connected, to varying degrees, by habitat corridors. Ongoing research is revealing just how important these fragmented refuges and associated connections are to native animals living within the urban environment. Street trees and gardens within built-up environments such as our City are prime examples of habitat corridors which can provide food or shelter to many animals and in particular birds, as they move across the landscape.

For those of you lucky enough to have birdlife visiting your home and garden regularly, you may have even developed a certain rapport with a few members of the feathered flock. Magpies and Willie Wag-tails are two of the most abundant species in urban areas and are many people’s favourites due to their cheeky personalities and somewhat brazen nature. For a number of residents observing local birdlife is one of the simple pleasures in life, however many people, choose not just to observe but to interact with birdlife, usually by feeding them. Although this behaviour is generally well intentioned, unfortunately it is actually far more detrimental to the health of our wild animals than one may think.

A trip to the local part or wetland to feed stale bread to ducks, or leaving out beef mince or grated cheese for visiting magpies and willy-wagtails is a common occurrence in our urban environments and generally one that brings great pleasure to our lives. The reality however is that feeding wildlife, is not just unnecessary, it can be harmful to birds and the natural environment. Human foods (such as bread and cheese) are obviously not part of a birds’ natural diet and therefore do not provide the appropriate vitamins or nutrients for their growth and development. Having a constant (artificial) food source can also mean that birdlife become dependent on this arrangement and lose the ability to forage for their own food. Other serious issues can also arise as a result of feeding wildlife; including an increase in the number of ‘pest’ species present in urban areas such as ravens and ibis, an interruption to natural migration patterns, and an increase in the prevalence of diseases such as avian botulism, throat worm or Toxoplasmosis. Feeding wildlife can also result in detrimental changes to the natural environment; such as pollution to waterways or eco-system imbalances that result of a disruption to natural food-web activity.

The best way to support native biodiversity and increase your opportunity to observe wildlife within your surrounding environment is through sustainable and environmentally conscious behaviour. Planting native plants within your garden or verge helps provide critical habitat and food source for a variety of honeyeaters, wrens and parrot species. Installing an insect hotel within your garden will increase invertebrate diversity and will in turn encourage an abundance of insectivorous birds. Installing a nest box might even encourage hollow-nesting species to take up residence in your backyard. A permanent and well protected water source is also another wonderful way to provide for our local birdlife, allowing them a place to bathe, preen and drink during the warm summer months. Responsible pet ownership (i.e. keeping cats in doors and dogs on leashes when out walking) is yet another way to help ensure that you have the pleasure of observing native wildlife in your local area.

For some, the beauty of birdlife lies in their relatively conspicuous nature. Our ability to witness or photograph wild animals in their natural habitat, foraging, drinking, interacting with one another, preening and even nesting and raising young, is a privilege we are rarely afforded with other animal types. It is important however, that in this instance familiarity does not breed contempt. It is crucial for the health and well-being of our beautiful birdlife that we limit ourselves to observing our feathered friends, to avoid killing them with kindness.

Written by Sarah-Jane McMahon |Environmental Education Officer

We all love to experience nature first hand. Interacting with local birdlife, especially the feeding of wild birds is a common and usually well-intentioned practice, but are we killing them with kindness?

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