Understanding the Ecological Trap

If you are a nature lover you probably love birds too and enjoy watching them. Every geographical area has so many varied and interesting types of birds that are native to your area. Many of us put out bird feeders to attract them to our yard. I have spent many hours gazing out my front window watching the blue Jays, cardinals, sparrows, juncos, finches and doves as they fly to and fro the feeder and the trees and back again. Or scrounging the ground for seeds that have fallen.

Photo: M. Danilko

I love to observe their behavior and watch which birds are the most aggressive and who will easily give way to another bird. I’d always assumed that size was a determining factor but soon learned through observation that is not always the case. 

In my effort to draw birds to my yard, I have so far, only experimented with various types of feeders and platforms and thistle socks using a variety of seeds. I’ve often thought about providing a bird house or nesting box for them. I started to do some research on the internet and came across an article titled “Understanding the Ecological Trap.” I soon learned that erecting just any old nesting box is not necessarily the right thing to do. In our effort to ‘help’ the birds we can actually create an ecological trap by attracting specific birds to an urban area but by not having the proper available resources for them to survive and flourish, we thereby create an ‘attractive sink’. While our good intention was to foster a source population, in which the bird population is stable or thriving we may have inadvertently done the opposite. 

I assumed that birds would just naturally choose an area to nest that was suitable for them, not realizing that we can influence their decisions to their detriment. 

An article I found on the internet from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Nest Watch explains the ecological trap and writes about an experiment done in the UK with Great Tits proving that birds won’t instinctively choose a nesting place based on the proper habitat for their survivability. 

Great Tit. Source: Wikimedia Commons

This article proved to me once again that as human’s we must always be cognizant that our good intentions to help the natural world flourish aren’t always what we think they are.  In the meantime, I have decided that I do not have enough information yet to choose a bird house or nesting box without doing some more research. 

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  1. Kevin Stroh March 22, 2018 11:48 am

    Is an ecological trap what has happened with the cranes nesting in wetlands filled with black flies? They keep coming back to the area they were released to, which seems suitable, but results in failed nests. I am looking forward to this year being the year the cranes have a huge, successful nesting season!

  2. Jane Maher March 19, 2018 11:17 am

    Very interesting concept I had never encountered before!