Amazing feeding costs for the birds

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From the Eclectic Mind of Roger VanHaren

Roger VanHaren

Last week, I wrote about my fascination with watching the birds at our feeder in the backyard. In the week since I wrote that, we have had the good fortune of having some beautiful new visitors come in to chow down and entertain us. The most spectacular was an indigo bunting. Gorgeous!

While I was at Fleet Farm this week buying another 40 pounds of feed, I bumped into a former student from 50 years ago who was also stocking up on supplies for her feeders. She told me that she had read an article that talked about the astronomical amount of money which is spent annually on this activity, now second only to gardening as a hobby in the U.S. She couldn’t remember the specifics, so I went home and did a little research on the internet.

In 2015, the last year for which I could find figures, 52.5 million American households (almost half) were feeding the birds. Those 52.5 million households averaged $59.73 per year for bird food. That’s over $3 billion.

In addition, those 52.5 million households also spent an average of $37.88 per year on feeders. Another nearly $2 billion.

I have never really kept records about how much we spend on our birdwatching hobby. Maybe I prefer not to know, but I read another article that said the costs are going to continue to rise — as much as 30 to 40 percent for some seeds. Why?

The demand for corn and other grains for use as an alternative fuel is one reason. The push for ethanol makes corn more valuable. Also, farmers are more likely to grow crops for biofuels and less for the birdseed market.

As far-fetched as it may seem, the anti trans-fats trend is another factor. the article said that Frito Lay, for example, no longer cooks its potato chips in vegetable oils, switching instead entirely to sunflower oil, so the price of sunflower seeds increases. I didn’t know this, but black sunflower seeds (not the striped variety, which are harder to crack) are the most popular birdseed of all.

Then the spiraling costs of petroleum are also affecting birdseed costs. Retailers have to pay a fuel surcharge to suppliers who deliver birdseed to the stores by trucks. The rise in gas and diesel fuel costs means we pay more. This will probably hit older bird enthusiasts whose incomes are fixed.

So ubiquitous are birdfeeders that they have enabled several varieties of birds to increase their ranges. For example, common house finches are almost coast-to-coast now, and the northern cardinal, blue jay and Carolina wren are found farther north than they used to be, largely because of feeders.

Despite what some people believe, feeding the birds is more about pleasing humans than helping birds survive. Except for the harshest weather, most birds are capable of finding food on their own in the wild, but we do love to look at them, don’t we?

Another article I read said that we could reduce our costs by substituting cooked rice or Ramen noodles, or by buying dried fruits, or you could buy cheaper varieties of birdseed. Whatever you do, don’t put out large quantities of bread crumbs. Bread is not nutritional and will only fill the gullets of birds with material that won’t help keep them warm or healthy.

So there you have it – an educational trip into one of my favorite hobbies.

Contact Roger VanHaren at