Does feeding birds in winter make them dependent on humans?
Some nature lovers worry that birds will become accustomed to free handouts from backyard bird-feeding stations and lose their natural ability to forage. Research at the University of Wisconsin contradicts this theory. Researchers discovered that when birds add a human-provided source of food to their diet, they do so without eliminating sources in nature, such as insects, seeds, and fruits. Your bird feeder simply becomes one more stop in their regular feeding pattern.
The same study showed that feeders improve the winter survival rates of birds, especially in late winter or after a heavy snowfall, when natural food sources diminish. When the researchers removed the feeders, the birds showed no loss of foraging skills.
In addition to setting out a well-stocked feeding station, there are other ways of assisting birds in winter. For example, you can landscape your yard with native plants that offer food and shelter. And birds welcome a source of water in all seasons. This article details a few other wintertime strategies for creating a bird-friendly yard. —Doug Hall