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Biol Lett. 2008 Apr 23;4(2):220-3. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0622.

Winter feeding of birds increases productivity in the subsequent breeding season.

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School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK.


Supplementary food given to birds can have contemporary effects by reducing the risk of starvation, increasing survival and altering movements and reproductive performance. There is, however, a widely held perception that birds benefit from extra food over winter, but that it is better that they 'look after themselves' during breeding. Here we describe a landscape-scale experiment showing for the first time that the effects of increasing food availability only during the winter can be carried over to the subsequent breeding season. Even though food supplementation stopped six weeks prior to breeding, birds living on sites provisioned over winter had advanced laying dates and increased fledging success compared with birds living on unprovisioned sites. Thus, supplemental feeding of wild birds during winter, in a manner mimicking householders provisioning in gardens and backyards, has the potential to alter bird population dynamics by altering future reproductive performance. With levels of bird feeding by the public continuing to increase, the impacts of this additional food supply on wild bird populations may be considerable.

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