Organic or conventional – what do wild birds choose ?

wild birds seed samplingToday as a consumer you are overwhelmed with choice. A visit to the veggie section of the supermarket, requires you to choose between conventionally or organically grown produce.

How do you decide ?

  • Cost
  • Nutritional value
  • Environmental impact

Researchers at Newcastle University took the dilemma out of the supermarket and into the garden. They designed an experiment to test the preferences of the birds living in North England.

Birds can’t read

To carry out the research, 30 feeding stations were set up in gardens across the North of England. Tucked into the bird feeders were the same variety of wheat seeds – either organic or conventionally grown. The contents of the bird feeders were switched half way through the study, to eliminate the effects of feeder position on preferences. The activity at the bird feeders was monitored over a 6 week period, for three years in a row.

The birds preferred conventional food over organic.

Birds can’t really taste

It is doubtful that birds have the capacity to savour food, since this is dependent on having a rather sophisticated sensory system built into your mouth. We have it, birds do not.

But birds do exhibit likes and dislikes.

Evidence of this comes from the antics of our resident barbet. He LIKES paw paw and tolerates apple – yes, the birds in our garden are indulged.

Bird choice probably based on nutritional value

The preference has little to do with taste and more to do with nutritional quality.

Laboratory analysis of the seeds, found that the only significant difference between the two seeds was their protein content. Conventionally grown seeds had 10 % more protein than those grown organically.

The extra protein is thanks to the nitrogen based fertilizers being applied to these plants as they grow. More nitrogen for the plant translates to increased protein synthesis and thus high protein content.

In the short-term at least, conventional seeds provide health benefits for birds. More protein equals being a stronger bird.

Bird don’t know about all the other stuff

The choice to go organic is not only about the nutritional value of the product, but the impact on the environment.

Bird brains are not considering the implications of using natural versus synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides or factoring in agricultural practices.

Organic versus conventional ?

Ultimately it is your choice, but the hype that suggests organic products are superior in terms of nutritional content is often just that, hype.

Birds Select Conventional Over Organic Wheat When Given Free Choice. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (2010) 90(11):1861-1869.  Ailsa McKenzie and Mark Whittingham.


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Further reading

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Organic food is not health food per se  Warning pigeons could finger you in an identity parade   Street lights drive the birds crazy

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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