Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do birds depend on birdfeeders?

An article, "Feed your fine-feathered friends," in today's Chicago Sun-Times says:

"Once you start to feeding in winter, you need to keep it up," said John O'Neill, a naturalist at the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs. "The birds start to depend on the food and it could be detrimental if you suddenly stop."
The birds depend on birdfeeders, and we could hurt them if we stop filling the feeders? I've heard otherwise.

This article at Kingston Field Naturalists appears to indicate otherwise.

Brittingham, in a study on the winter feeding habits of the Black-capped Chickadee in Wisconsin, showed that birds obtained 20 to 25 percent of their daily energy requirements from feeders, and an additional 75 to 80 percent from natural (wild) food sources. Her study also showed that in normal winters chickadees that used feeders as a supplemental food source survived at the same rate when feeding station food was removed as did chickadees that had never been exposed to feeder food.

That article refers to a 1983-1985 study by Margaret C. Brittingham and Stanley Temple.

Have you read other research that focuses on how much wild birds use birdfeeders?

Black-capped Chickadee courtesy of

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Blogger doug said...

Interesting link, Amy!

I thought I read somewhere (Sibley, perhaps?) that the range of the Anna's Hummingbird up and down the Pacific Coast had greatly expanded with the rise in the use of hummingbird feeders in the last several years.

If that's true, then it definitely seems like the question of whether feeder-birds rely on feeders is a species-specific question, and maybe even population-specific. It's certainly a complicated enough scientific question that I think it's not easily solved by intuition or anecdotal evidence alone.

In my opinion, it also touches on an interesting contradiction within the environmentalist movement: there's a widespread view that human beings are unnatural and therefore should not tamper with the environment. But on the contrary! It is humankind alone which is uniquely capable of valuing nature in any general way, and therefore must decide what we value and act to promote it.

January 17, 2010 6:33 PM  

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