UBC Graduate Research

Birds on Campus : Assessing Sources of Unintentional Feeding to Inform Policy and Campus Design : Understanding Trash Foraging Practices in Bird Populations on the UBC Vancouver Campus Eronen, Eline; Johnson, Dana; Wan, Kah Mun


Unintentional food sources such as waste provide an additional and constant food source for many birds. However, the issues of unintentional feeding and its effects on birds received limited attention. Alternative food sources may be associated with lower in quality (Pollock et al. 2017) and favour certain behavioral patterns over others (e.g opportunistic and generalist feeders) (Chamberlain et al., 2009). Hence, we stress that understanding the impacts of unintentional food (litter, food scraps, overfilled trash-bins) sources to birds in The University of British Columbia (UBC) campus is important for developing actionable recommendations that relate to the conservation of avian biodiversity through fostering habitats that offer optimal nutrition that support a diversity of avian populations in the campus. This project will assess the potential impacts to birds from unintentional food sources on the UBC Vancouver campus and identify populations most likely to be impacted by these risks. We first conducted a literature review to synthesize previous research on the impacts of unintentional food sources to birds and their potential impacts to the avian biodiversity. We then conducted observations of unintentional feeding on the UBC Vancouver campus to examine potential bird foraging activities on waste. Based on the initial findings from the literature review and observations, we conducted three qualitative, semi-structured interviews with UBC waste management and a UBC ornithologist to understand the prevalence of litter on campus (where does it occur, what type of litter is it, is it on the ground or in overfilled trash cans, etc) and how this affects UBC’s bird populations both directly and indirectly. Our findings indicated that unintentional feeding sources (e.g., loose litter) are prevalent on campus which support a growing crow and seagull population. The direct physiological and indirect ecological effects of unintentional feeding in urban settings are little understood - our findings corroborated this broader pattern in the literature. Though, there is evidence of increased corvid populations negatively impacting campus aesthetics, avianabundance and wellbeing of other avian populations, and the spread of waste that become food sources for other opportunistic mammals. We provide a series of recommendations to reduce unintentional feeding on campus that are primarily guided by structural changes and behaviors nudges to minimize the spread of trash at the source. Our study highlights an important research gap that we hope receives more attention when considering campus bird diversity. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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