Ask the Experts: Do Birds Get Dependent on Feeders?

Updated: Feb. 14, 2024

Do backyard birds become overly dependent on bird feeders for food? Find out the answer from our birding experts.

Do Birds Become Dependent on Bird Feeders?

Full Goldfinch Feeder Pic For Birds & BloomsCourtesy Jackie Layne
Goldfinches on a full bird feeder

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.

Check out the 10 types of bird feeders you need in your backyard.

Make sure to keep feeders filled on cold winter days

Question: Does it harm birds to take down a feeder suddenly? —William Toth of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Kenn and Kimberly: In general, wild birds adjust quickly if a food source disappears. After all, in nature their food supply can vary from day to day—whether they’re eating insects, fruits, seeds or something else. They have to stay ready to seek new supplies. The birds that visit your feeder are undoubtedly getting food elsewhere too. The only time it’s dangerous to take down feeders abruptly is during extremely cold weather, especially after a storm has coated everything with a layer of ice. In those times, the food you provide may save the lives of many birds.

Next, learn about the best bird feeders and seed for cardinals. Plus, discover budget-friendly ways to attract birds to your yard without breaking the bank.