To feed or not to feed?

When it comes to wild birds, ‘to feed or not to feed’ is an enduring urban ethical dilemma.  While many Australians frown upon the practice of feeding native animals, an increasing number of people derive great enjoyment from inviting the birds round for a meal.

On 17 October, the Northern Rivers Science Hub is bringing its well-loved Lismore-based science engagement event to Ballina for the first time.  Delivering science education in a relaxed, social and fun environment, the Science Hub’s popular Science in the Pub events share current science from Australian researchers and local experts. 

With presenters selected primarily on their ability to effectively communicate locally-relevant science in an engaging and non-technical manner, SciPub is held in an informal setting (pub, club or bowlo) so that scientists, aspiring scientists, and non-scientists can learn, discuss and think critically about hot topics in science, with a bevvy in hand and smile on their dial. 

For our first SciPub foray into Ballina, Professor Darryl Jones will reveal that what at first seems to be a niche topic — humans feeding wild birds — is in fact something a disproportionate number of us do.

Half the citizens of Australia, the UK, and the US feed birds, whether its by planting trees that attract them, putting food out on apartment balconies, setting up birds baths and feeders, or by unwittingly leaving scraps behind in parks. The international bird seed industry is huge and most of the seed is gown in India or Africa. Another way of describing all this activity is as an unplanned ecological experiment on an unbelievably large scale.

About the speakers

Based at Griffith University, Professor Jones is an urban ecology expert. He’s also a passionate bird feeder who is particularly interested in the way that people interact with nature – including how urbanisation affects wildlife, the conflicts we have with certain species (magpies, crows, brush-turkeys) and most recently, the highly controversial topic of wild bird feeding.

Professor Jones has recently published two books on this topic: The Birds At My Table (2018) and Feeding The Birds At Your Table (2019).

Professor Jones draws on an impressive knowledge of the latest scientific findings as well as his own personal knowledge, to reflect and explain the modern practice of bird feeding. We’ll discuss the big picture (what happens when we feed birds, the way that feeding changes bird communities, the risk of disease, the benefits and problems) and explore the practicalities of feeding the birds at your table. 

After a break, we will explore the pros and cons of feeding wild birds, and offer sensible and practical suggestions so feeding doesn’t only benefit us, but benefits the birds themselves.

The Northern Rivers’ Science in the Pub events aim to present both scientific research and on-ground action. For this SciPub, local expert birder Jan Olley from Byron Bird Buddies will also share her 20 years’ experience to help us understand the private lives of some local birds of our backyards.  She’ll introduce fledgling birders to opportunities to become citizen scientists and share some of the great resources available to help you get to know Ballina’s birds.

The burning questions

Presenting the latest findings and pioneering local science, this SciPub event will answer questions like:

  • Is it bad to feed native Aussie birds?
  • What happens when we feed wild birds?
  • Do birds become dependent on feeders?
  • Do bird communities change when we feed them?
  • Why do people feed birds anyway?
  • What are the unintended consequences of feeding the birds?
  • What birds can I expect to see in my Ballina backyard?
  • How can I attract different kinds of birds to my backyard?
  • What can I do about the squeakers?

With free finger food served at 5:30pm, there will be time to charge your glasses in the name of science before we take flight into the science of bird feeding.

About the organisers

This SciPub event is part of the Northern Rivers Science Hub’s Science Walks/Science Talks program, regular events that feature local science experts and address local issues to engage the community in innovation, education, and science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).  Science Walks/Science Talks harnesses the collaboration that forms the core of the Northern Rivers Science Hub.

The Northern Rivers Science Hub is a regional focal point for science communication and engagement activities in the Northern Rivers NSW.  It is a collaborative network of partners from across community, industry and government who share a vision of “Science education to inspire sustainable futures and connected communities”.

Partners in the Northern Rivers Science Hub include Lismore City Council, Rous County Council, Dorroughby Environmental Education Centre, Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens, EnviTE – Environment, Richmond Landcare Inc., Friends of the Koala and North East Waste, North Coast TAFE, and Southern Cross University.

The Northern Rivers Science Hub is a part of Inspiring Australia, the national strategy for community engagement with science whose mission is to connect Australians with the science, technology, engineering and maths that are fundamental parts of our lives, our society and our culture.

This is a free event brought to you by the Northern Rivers Science Hub and Richmond Landcare, funded by Inspiring Australia and the NSW Government, and supported by Ballina Shire Council and the Ramada Hotel & Suites Ballina. The coordination of this event is made possible by the NSW Landcare Program.  Professor Darryl Jones generously donated his time to this event free of charge.