Attention small children and seniors: I know it's fun, but please don't feed the birds.

Spring is officially here!

Birds are chirping. Bees are buzzing. Blossoms are blooming. We made it through another long, chilly winter. High fives all around.

Me at any given moment.


With the return of warmer weather comes all our beloved spring pastimes: taking hikes, planting flowers, and feeding the birds.

But not so fast.

Photo by iStock.

While it's fun and relaxing to take a stale loaf of bread or bag of popcorn down to the park to feed the birds, the practice can be really harmful.

Here are six reasons why.

1. Most of the food humans offer has little nutrition.

"It does not contain the right combination of nutrients the birds need," says Dr. Stanley Temple, Beers-Bascom professor emeritus in conservation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "In warm weather, it can quickly become moldy and make birds sick. If dry, stale bread is eaten quickly, it can lead to impaction of the birds' digestive tract."

Children feed the ducks at the waterfront in Annapolis, Maryland. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

2. Since bread is basically bird junk food, too much can cause problems.

According to Temple, birds that eat too much bread can also develop a deformity called "angel wing," where the last joint of a bird's wing twists out instead of laying flat against the body. A bad case of angel wing can even result in death.

People feed swans and ducks at a lake outside Minsk, Belarus. Photo by Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images.

3. Wild birds are really good at finding naturally occurring food on their own and don't need a helping hand (or a wing).

Even if that hand has really tasty or desirable food.

"When we studied winter bird feeding, we discovered that even when birds like chickadees had free access to bird feeders full of attractive seeds, they only obtained about a quarter of their food from the feeders," Dr. Temple says. "The rest they found from natural sources."

Ducks at a pond in Central Park, New York City. Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

4. Feeding waterbirds can make them less afraid of humans, which could prove dangerous.

"If they're used to being fed by people, they'll automatically associate a person with food and walk towards people. You'll often notice these ducks or geese will come right up to you," says Joe Liebezeit, Avian Conservation Program manager for the Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon. "But ... say these birds are migratory and they go to a wildlife refuge or an area where there's hunters. They're going to increase their chances of mortality if they fly toward a human."

He had it coming. Save yourself, bird!

5. It can also do serious damage to their natural habitats.

When humans feed birds in the same places, as is often the case in city parks, shorelines, and walking trails, birds learn to gather in those spots, even if there isn't enough space or natural resources to accommodate them.

And when local nonprofits or agencies work to restore or improve habitats, often at high costs, large clusters of birds can cause rapid degradation.

Ducklings in a garden in Sieversdorf, Germany. Photo by Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images.

6. Additionally, when birds gather together in natural and unnatural concentrations, diseases can spread quickly.

"There are some avian diseases like avian cholera and avian botulism that are especially a problem in areas where birds are clustered together," Liebezeit says. "That can lead to mass mortalities."

So put down the breadcrumbs and consider other ways to enjoy birds and wildlife in your area.

There are hundreds of wildlife refugees in the U.S. alone where the public can see animals and waterfowl thriving on naturally occurring food sources. There's even an easy online tool to find a refuge close to you or one to visit while you're on vacation.

Pink-footed geese take off to feed from Montrose Basin in Scotland. Staff and volunteers at the Scottish Wildlife Trust have recorded more than 65,000 geese arriving to spend the winter in the reserve. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

Check out resources and events from the Audubon Society or other conservation groups in your area for information on birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and habitat restoration. There are opportunities for people in urban areas to volunteer or see native wildlife.

Let's make spring a healthy and safe time for our fine feathered friends, and let them find their own food.

Put down the treats and pick up your camera, notebook, or binoculars. You'll be glad you did.

Birdwatchers in the San Antonio forest near Cali, Colombia. Photo by Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images.

True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.