How effective are game feeders?

Due to the efficiency of modern farming practices, very few seeds are left behind after harvesting. While this is great for farmers and land owners, it results in a diminished winter food supply for many farmland birds.

To provide these birds with a food supply which is crucial for their breeding success and survival, many farmers employ the use of game feeders. However, though these are designed to benefit gamebirds and songbirds, the amount of feed wasted on ‘non-desirable’ species (such as rats and pigeons) was previously unrecorded.

The impact of game feeders

To ensure that these efforts were providing support to farmland birds during the months when resources are scarce, researchers from the GWCT conducted a study into the distribution of this food source to determine just how much of it was reaching the species it intended to assist.

This research was carried out over a two year period by placing camera traps on almost 260 game feeders which were located on three lowland farms in Oxford and Hampshire during the winters of 2012 and 2013. The 160,000 images taken during this time were then analysed as part of the study.

The results of this study, which was published in The Journal of Wildlife Management, showed that the vast majority (67%) of the provided food was consumed by pest species – whose numbers in the UK continue to rise.

Improving the impact of game feeders

As part of the study, the location of game feeders were analysed. Findings show that gamebirds and songbirds benefitted from the majority of the feeders’ resources when placed in an open field. Also, when the feeder was periodically moved, farmland birds could locate its new location within 1-3 days, while rats took around 2-4 days to find the new site.

The findings of the study highlight the need to continue to provide sufficient resources within game feeders throughout late winter months. When the control of rats upon land is maintained, their recommended placement would be along hedgerows. However, on land where rats pose a threat to the impact of game feeders, place feeders in open fields and move their location every 7-10 days to reduce the impact of these rodents.

Help to fund further research

This initiative is just one of the projects carried out by the GWCT to improve and safeguard conservation practices.

To help the GWCT to continue their efforts, please visit their fundraising page.

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