Study Says Birds Won’t Become Dependent on People Feeding Them


Study Says Birds Won’t Become Dependent on People Feeding Them
Study Says Birds Won’t Become Dependent on People Feeding Them

If you’ve always been afraid to place a bird feeder in your yard fearing it would make it difficult for birds to survive on their own later on, don’t be. New research from Oregon State University found that the small songbirds that typically visit feeders are unlikely to develop an unhealthy reliance on them.

Bird Feeding Is Safe, Researchers Say

Jim Rivers, an animal ecologist at the OSU College of Forestry and head researcher in the study, concluded that putting out food for small birds in the winter months is highly unlikely to cause increased dependence on human-provided food. Of course, there’s still a lot that science doesn’t know about intentional feeding and the changes it might induce in wild bird populations.

Birds and Humans, the Experiment

A black-capped chickadee up close
Study Says Birds Won’t Become Dependent on People Feeding Them

So far, there has been only one manipulative experiment to test whether birds develop a dependency toward humans when they feed them regularly. The experiment used 67 black-capped chickadees and was conducted 30 years ago. The results found that there was no correlation between bird feeding and feeder dependency. To obtain this insight, researchers removed bird feeders that were used to provide supplemental food in winter for about 25 years. They then tracked the survival behavior of the birds to establish they were perfectly able to find food on their own.

The Dangers of Feeding Wildlife Animals

The Dangers of Feeding Wildlife Animals
Study Says Birds Won’t Become Dependent on People Feeding Them

Every year, more than 50 million people across the United States put out food for wildlife animals. Although that act comes from a place of kindness, it can have unintended consequences for free-ranging animal populations that, according to Rivers, are best documented in birds. The downsides include changes in migration patterns, disease transmission, and restructuring of local communities. Evidence suggests that it can also change birds’ bill structure.

Birds won't eat at feeders where they don't feel safe and protected from predators. Finding the right spot can be a challenge, but worth it in the end. (blightylad-infocus/Getty Images) Sparrow about to descend onto a bird feeder.
Study Says Birds Won’t Become Dependent on People Feeding Them

It’s not all bad, however. Bird and wildlife feeding can also lead to wintertime survival, reproductive output, and enhanced body condition. In the end, if we are being mindful not to change the natural environment of these animals, we will likely do more good than harm.