Although birdfeeding and birdwatching both have to do with an interest in birds, they are quite different. Birdwatching is, generally speaking, a non-invasive activity where the birdwatcher goes into the field and tries to observe birds in their natural habitat with a minimum of disturbance.
Birdfeeding involves an active and deliberate attempt to modify nature by providing food and sometimes shelter (which may be of benefit to birds, harmless, harmful, or even illegal depending on the circumstances). From the human's point of view, it is a more passive, common and informal approach to enjoying wild birds.
One feeds birds in the general area of one's backyard for the purpose of attracting them closer to one's vantage point in the house, to watch them through the window. Alternatively, one may sit in the garden, or on a terrace or bench in the street, a square or a park. Thus one may enjoy the beauty of nature conveniently.
Birdfeeding can be a harmless and quite often an environmentally helpful pastime, but must be practiced with thought and care. It is easy to do more harm than good by, for example, allowing birds to become dependant on artificial food supplies, or upsetting the natural balance between different species. Except in severely degraded urban environments, it is generally frowned upon by naturalists.
Several billion dollars each and every year are spent by ardent birdfeeders who indulge their wild birds with a variety of wild bird seeds, suets, nectars, home concoctions, etc. Birdfeeding is regarded as the number one or number two most popular pastime in the USA. Some 55 million Americans are involved in birdfeeding putting it right up there with gardening as things people like to spend their time doing.
The hobby has spawned an industry that generates billions each year in the sales of birdseed, birdfeeders, birdhouses (nesting boxes), mounting poles, squirrel baffles, binoculars, etc. This phenomenon has come to be known as The Birdstore. Hundreds of these Birdstores have cropped up over the last 15 years all through the country. Backyard Birds in Michigan, Wild Birds Unlimited in Indiana to name two.
Most every civilized country practices birdfeeding in one way or another. Some simply share their table scraps with the wild birds. Others, primarily Western European and North American birdfeeders have developed a more studied approach, providing special feeders for seed, suet, nectar and a host of other feeding aids. Companies such as Droll Yankees, Duncraft and others have pioneered feeder designs that provide efficient seed delivery systems for the birds.
The most common birds in cities are: