Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation

Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation

Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation

Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation


Today, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, more than fifty million Americans feed birds around their homes, and over the last sixty years, billions of pounds of birdseed have filled millions of feeders in backyards everywhere. Feeding Wild Birds in America tells why and how a modest act of provision has become such a pervasive, popular, and often passionate aspect of people's lives.

Each chapter provides details on one or more bird-feeding development or trend including the "discovery" of seeds, the invention of different kinds of feeders, and the creation of new companies. Also woven into the book are the worlds of education, publishing, commerce, professional ornithology, and citizen science, all of which have embraced bird feeding at different times and from different perspectives.

The authors take a decade-by-decade approach starting in the late nineteenth century, providing a historical overview in each chapter before covering topical developments (such as hummingbird feeding and birdbaths). On the one hand, they show that the story of bird feeding is one of entrepreneurial invention; on the other hand, they reveal how Americans, through a seemingly simple practice, have come to value the natural world.


There are wonderful histories of American ornithology, bird conservation, and birdwatching. Indeed, there are multiple histories about wild bird trends, each with a particular emphasis, whether on science, on preservation, or on the birding pastime. But, until now, there has not been a compelling narrative that fully outlines the development of bird-feeding passions and traditions across North America.

The need for this book may seem surprising, since an estimated 52.8 million Americans, according to the us Fish and Wildlife Service (2012), feed birds around home. These millions of nature enthusiasts take every opportunity to bring the sounds and colors of birds to their own backyards.

Over the last sixty years, a booming industry has emerged to serve the bird-feeding public and produce the billions of pounds of birdseed necessary to fill millions of feeders in backyards everywhere—reportedly, enough seed purchased annually to fill railway cars stretching 250 miles! As demand for feeders, birdbaths, poles and baffles, binoculars, field guides, and magazines surged, new companies and franchises entered the marketplace at an amazing rate. Today, the bird-feeding hobby generates many billions of dollars in sales.

The original idea to commission the writing of a very brief history of the bird-feeding pastime and business was first proposed and funded by the Wild Bird Centers of America (WBCA). wbca subsequently engaged the services of three birding and nature writers—Paul J. Baicich, Margaret A. Barker, and Carrol L. Henderson—to prepare a short history. the results were so interesting that the writers were encouraged to expand their short work into a full-blown book. As a result, these three talented individuals have worked hard over several years to record the backyard bird-feeding hobby’s storied past.

The book now in your hands, however, is much more than a history of bird feeding and more than bird feeding’s story. It is a narrative on the weaving of the trials and errors of the pastime that helps us . . .

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