Feeding your backyard birds can improve their health by protecting them from parasites, says a new study. Sarah Knutie, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, set up 200 nest boxes for eastern bluebirds and monitored all the nest boxes for bird eggs. As the eggs hatched, she fed live mealworms to some of the nestlings and tracked the growth and survival of all the nestlings until they fledged. Once the fledglings left the nest, she also recorded the number of parasites in each box.
Birds who were fed seemed to reap significant benefits from the extra food, with a higher overall survival rate and less blood loss than the control group. In addition, these birds had few or no parasites, which suggests that feeding the birds could increase the birds' ability to kill parasites.