Will Birds Starve if I Stop Feeding?

We have often heard the comment “I don’t feed birds because I travel and I don’t want to make them dependent on my bird feeder.”  Often we are asked about this at our booth at various birding festivals and trade shows.  For the longest time I really didn’t have a good answer based on facts.  Now I do.  Margaret Brittingham at the University of Wisconsin’s Wildlife Ecology Department conducted a three year study, tracking 576 Black-capped Chickadees and found no difference in the rates of survival of feeder visitors to wild foragers.  Her study indicates that feeder birds obtained only 20 to 25% of their daily energy requirements from feeder food.  However, when temperatures dropped below 10 degrees Fahrenheit the chickadees increasingly turned to feeder seeds.  The goal of Brittingham’s study was to learn whether birds become dependent on feeders and loose the ability to forage in the wild.  Her study did not support that premise.  The specific citation for this study is Journal of Field Ornithology, 63(2):190-194:  Does Winter Bird Feeding Promote Dependency, by Margaret C. Brittingham and Stanley A. Temple.

With this said, let’s get out there and put up the bird feeders.  Birds are colorful and interesting.  They provide a wonderful link for both children and adults with the natural world around us.  Studies show that relaxing and enjoying the birds coming into a feeder reduces stress.  These are good things for you and your family.  The food does help the birds out so it is a win-win situation.  And you will not make them dependent on your feeding in the process.


  1. Thay Chan Hue says:

    Thank you so much for this helpful information. I may be leaving in the dead of winter and so have stopped feeding the chickadees who come every day. Is it correct to assume that they won’t starve or suffer if indeed I need to leave in mid-winter. And do you think this is true of blue jays and nuthatches as well?
    Peace to you,
    Thay Chan Hue

    • The birds will be fine if you stop feeding them during the winter. There have been scientific studies done to prove any species of bird does not totally rely on bird feeders for their diet. Feed your chickadees, blue jays, nuthatches and any other birds to stop at your feeder without feeling guilty if you must leave for a while.

      When you come back and start feeding, it may take a little while for the birds to find you again, but they will come back.

      Hope this helps you. If you have other questions, please ask us. We love talking about birds.

  2. willfly4food says:

    Thanks for this information! I feed many kinds of birds, squirrels and chipmunks different types of food for each species. I love them all and they are like my pets. They get really excited in the morning when I go out to feed them. I love it when the woodpeckers feed their babies off my suit feeder. I am wondering if my chipmunks and squirrels will be fine too. They are accustomed to eating from the feeders sense they were babies. We will eventually move from our home and I worry about all my chipmunks and squirrels. Do you think they will be ok too?

  3. Hi,

    I have been talking to everyone I can think of to find a solution for your problem. I have even talked to several college professors who specialize in mammals. I am afraid that I can not come up with a good solution for you. You must stop feeding for awhile. Most are suggesting about 6 months. There are bird feeders such as the Brome that will stop the rats from being able to eat from the feeder, but you would have to keep the ground under the feeder clean, or the rats will still have a food source.

    I did learn that there are two type of live traps that you may try. One is a wire sided trap such as Have-a Heart traps. The other is a Sherman trap, which has solid sides. Several of the people I talked to said to try both types of traps to see which ones the rats will come to.

    I’m very sorry that I can not come up with a better solution for you.


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