December 3rd, 2012

Feeding Birds in Winter

Does feeding birds in winter make them dependent on humans?

blog-dougSome 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

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Comments

    I live in Charleston, SC. We have ruby-throated hummingbirds that come in the early Spring around March and I rarely see them after early December. I have three hummingbird colored feeders I put out: 25% granulated sugar to 75% water, no coloring. I don’t know if I should put out the feeders earlier and keep them out; would that help them choose to nest nearby and am I endangering them if I remove the feeders when I think they have been gone for a couple weeks, but are still present (maybe they are only feeding in the evening and it is dark earlier). What are the average temperatures that I should keep in mind in which they would arrive/depart?

    Nectar for hummingbirds in spring is only a portion of their diet. They require the high protein that insects provide. Birds migrate according to natural food availability. Nest site selection usually has to do with safety more than proximity to food source. If feeders are not getting visited much, the birds have probably moved on.

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