Feeding winter songbirds? Here are some tips

by Tracie Hornung

At first blush, feeding songbirds in winter sounds like nothing but a positive activity.

Darkened Junco. Courtesy USFWS. Dave Menke photo.

But I’ve heard the concern that if you start feeding songbirds in winter on a regular basis, you’re dooming them if you suddenly leave on vacation for a few weeks – after they’ve been “spoiled” by their human-supplied meals.

Another worry is that regular feeding of songbirds in winter may ultimately weaken them. Two studies in Europe and the U.K. have found that songbirds fed all winter produce fewer eggs, have fewer chicks fledge – and those that do have lower survival rates. This article in Cool Green Science explores some possible reasons. But because these findings were the result of only two studies, more research obviously needs to be done. 

Regarding leaving your birds for a frolic in the tropics, you can go guilt-free if you can coax a neighbor or friend to feed while you’re gone. Or if that’s not possible, gradually taper off the amount of food you’re putting out before you go. And according to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, birds have adapted to changes in food sources and usually quickly revert to foraging in the wild.


Tracie Hornung photo

If you want to know more about feeding birds in winter view Cornell’s “Bird Notes” publication on Winter Bird Feeding.




2 thoughts on “Feeding winter songbirds? Here are some tips

  1. Steve B

    It’s interesting that we think that wild animals won’t be able to fend for themselves once we start to feed them. I have the same mindset about a colony of feral cats that I feed regularly. When I go out of town for more than a day I have someone come in and feed them for me. Yet look how many feral cats live very well, foraging on their own. I would think birds are the same. Sure, they may be hungry at first, but hunger will drive them to find food and they will survive.

    1. Rowena Wildlife Clinic Post author

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for writing, but I have to take exception to your comment that feral cats do well on their own. I’m a volunteer for a rescue organization that spays and neuters homeless cats. Granted, the ferals are better at finding food than the domesticated strays. But the ferals often have a variety of medical problems, and frequently, short lives. It’s a tough life and one I don’t wish on any cat.

      Hope your ferals are fixed. And thanks for feeding them!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.