In the 1964 Disney musical Mary Poppins, the magical nanny, played by Julie Andrews, teaches a number of lessons to the Banks children. In "Feed The Birds," she expresses the importance of charity through the story of the elderly beggar woman who makes a living selling bird feed for twopence a bag.
Songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman consider the hymn-like lullaby to be the heart of the film. Robert Sherman said, "Songs have been written about a myriad of subjects. 'Feed the Birds' is the first song written about the merits of giving charity."
The Sherman Brothers were inspired by a scene from the Mary Poppins book series, written by P.L. Travers. Robert explained: "We seized on one incident in Chapter 7… 'The Bird Woman.' And we realized that was the metaphor for why Mary came, to teach the children - and Mr. Banks - the value of charity. So we wrote the song and took it up to Walt's office and played it and sang it for him. He leaned back in his chair, looking out the window, and he said: 'That's it, isn't it? That's what this is all about. This is the metaphor for the whole film.' And that was the turning point in our lives."
In a 2014 interview with Performing Songwriter, the Sherman Brothers used this as a prime example of their songwriting philosophy. Richard Sherman explained: "We write for family audiences, that's our thing. We try to write with a broad spectrum of meaning. You can listen to 'Feed The Birds, Tuppence A Bag' and one person will say, 'Oh, it's a guy that’s trying to make a pitch to buy breadcrumbs and feed pigeons with them.' And somebody else might say, 'Oh maybe it's more a song about being kind and giving a little love to people that need it.' There's a double way of looking at it."
A dramatic orchestral rendition is used when Mr. Banks passes by the Bird Woman's usual spot at St. Paul's Cathedral, only to find that she isn't there. Although we don't know for sure, the somber scene suggests the woman has died.
In the film, the Bird Woman is played by Academy Award-winning actress Jane Darwell in her final screen appearance.