Ask the Bird Experts: Do Birds Get Dependent on Feeders?

Our bird experts answer your questions about bird feeders, attracting robins in winter, and more!

Do birds become dependent on bird feeders? How do I attract robins in winter? What is this weird bird in my backyard?!

Each month, Birds & Blooms readers send in their burning questions to birding experts, Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, who are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world.

Got a bird question for Kenn and Kimberly? Submit your questions here! They may appear here or in a future issue of the magazine.

Question: Do birds become dependent on backyard feeders? I would like to hang a bird feeder, but haven’t because I will likely move in a few years. —Ariana Martin of Mountain Home, Idaho

Kenn and Kimberly: Your concern is admirable, but feeding isn’t likely to make birds dependent if you do it in moderation. Studies indicate birds that visit feeders also circulate through the surrounding area, on the hunt for natural foods in addition to backyard offerings. They quickly adapt to changes in the supply. We suggest you go ahead and feed the birds for now. When you get ready to move, reduce the amount of feed gradually: Fill the feeders less often, and put out less at a time. By the time you leave, the local birds will have learned to look elsewhere. (Read more: 4 Foods to Feed Birds in Winter)


flock of robins at birdbath in winterCourtesy Jane High
photo credit: Jane High (B&B reader)

Question: A flock of robins stayed with us last winter and ate all the berries growing in our area. How can we attract them to feeders? —Susan Petrch of Millbrook, Ontario

Kenn and Kimberly: Robins aren’t typical feeder guests, but there are some things you can try. It’s best to place an open tray feeder near one of the berry-producing trees frequented by the robins and stock it with raisins, grapes, apple slices or other fruit. You can also offer mealworms or suet. But it’s normal for flocks of robins to be nomadic in winter, wandering long distances and stopping when they find a natural food source. Once they’ve depleted the local berry supply, most likely they’ll be off in search of the next berry crop instead of sticking around at feeders. (Read more: Attracting Birds with Berries)


song sparrow on branchphoto credit: Lisa Holder (B&B reader)
photo credit: Lisa Holder (B&B reader)

Question: Can you identify this bird? —Lisa Holder of Bakersville, North Carolina

Kenn and Kimberly: This is an unusual view of a song sparrow. Even at this angle we can see many of its typical field marks, including the dark “whisker” marks on either side of its throat, below the bill, and the large brown blotch in the center of its chest. Its body shape looks odd in this photo because its feathers are all fluffed out. Birds often do that in cold weather to help trap more warm air close to their bodies. (Read more: How to Identify Mystery Birds)

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Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman
Kenn and Kimberly are the official Birds & Blooms bird experts. They are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world. When they're not traveling, they enjoy watching birds and other wildlife in their Northwest Ohio backyard.