Introduced Grey Squirrels subvert supplementary feeding of suburban wild birds

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Providing food for wild birds is perhaps the most widespread intentional interaction between people and wildlife. In the UK, almost half of households feed wild birds, often as peanuts and seed supplied in hanging feeders. Such food is also taken by the introduced, invasive Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis. Little is known of how Grey Squirrels utilise this resource and how they affect feeder use by wild birds. To assess this we recorded the numbers and time spent by animals visiting experimental feeding stations in suburban gardens, and also asked if exclusionary guards (to prevent Grey Squirrel access), food type (peanut, mixed seed), habitat and weather conditions influenced visits. Using automated cameras, we recorded 24,825 bird and 8577 Grey Squirrel visits. On average >44% of the time feeders were utilised, they were being visited by Grey Squirrels. Grey Squirrel presence prevented birds from feeding at the same time (>99.99%). Feeders where Grey Squirrels were dominant were less likely to be visited by birds, even in their absence. Guards reduced Grey Squirrel use to a minimum on seed feeders, and by approximately half on peanut feeders. Squirrels, food type, guard status, habitat and rainfall all influenced bird activity and timing of feeder visits. Our work suggests that Grey Squirrels reduce the availability of supplementary food to wild birds, while gaining large volumes of food resources with corresponding benefits. Given the ubiquity of supplementary feeding, it is likely that this is an important resource for urban Grey Squirrels; feeder guards mitigate this effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-18
Number of pages9
Early online date8 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


  • Garden birds
  • Grey Squirrel
  • Human-wildlife interactions
  • Supplementary feeding
  • Urban ecology

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