Ken Bosma / CC BY 2.0

How Bird Feeders Can Be Bad (And Good) For Birds

Bird feeders can help birds, but new research says those feeders can also spread disease among avian populations.

By Sebastian Martinez | September 17, 2015

Getting a bird feeder seems like a no-brainer for a bird lover. You get a front-row seat to the birds you love, while helping them survive. But they may not always be good for the birds.

New research shows the feeders are linked to higher rates of conjunctivitis among house finches, which can blind them. (Video via YouTube / John Berthoty)

While it might not seem significant, it illustrates how the feeders, which put a lot of different birds in close proximity, can spread infectious disease. (Video via YouTube / seahue)

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And birds, in turn, can often spread disease themselves. The avian flu scare comes to mind, but they're also sometimes vectors for West Nile virus. (Video via ABC)

But feeder diseases are often much worse for the birds: Salmonella is one common killer, as well as avian pox. Not to mention parasites like mites and lice, which can cause birds to abandon their nests. (VIdeo via YouTube / BikeTrikeNTrailYouTube / Tio Dave)

That doesn't mean feeders don't help birds: They do. As development continues to destroy bird habitats, feeders can often be a vital source of food. (Video via KXAN)

That's especially true during the winter, when non-migratory birds have to scavenge for food to stay alive.

Still, while the positive results of bird feeding are obvious and well documented, the potentially negative ones aren't.

Research has shown some chickadee species lay fewer eggs and had fewer fledglings survive when they had access to bird food. (Video via YouTube / Discerning WonBrinvale Bird Foods, Farm Shop)

One hypothesis the researchers in those studies offered was the birds' diets were unbalanced and that feeders could've been placed in less-than-optimal nesting locations. (Video via QVC)

That last theory could hold water — the Cornell Lab of Ornithology points out feeder placement in relation to windows, for example, is crucial. (Video via Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

"When feeders are close to a window, a bird leaving the feeder cannot gain enough momentum to do harm if it strikes the window."

As for disease? The researchers noted studying the feeders has given them valuable insight into how diseases are spread among birds, opening the door for better management.

This video includes images from Don DeBold / CC BY 2.0Ken Bosma / CC BY 2.0Sharon Mollerus / CC BY 2.0Tony Alter / CC BY 2.0 and Getty Images and music from Birocratic / CC BY 4.0.

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