When to Feed Birds Perhaps the most frequently asked questions about feeding birds concern when to feed them. When should I start feeding? When should I stop so I don’t affect migration? Can I feed in the summer? Several issues must be considered.
People feed birds in order to enjoy them, so why not feed them all year long? As long as you’re willing to put in the time to maintain the feeding area — supply food and water and keep the area clean — you will be rewarded by birds using the site. You may not get the variety in the summer that you’ll see during migration or in the winter when there is more of a dependency on the feeder, but you may be rewarded with the antics of young birds being introduced to the site.
Birds can become dependent on feeders for supplemental food. It has been shown, however, that they do not rely on feeders for all of their food and perhaps not even a quarter of what they eat. That said, though, the feeder can be an important resource during times of duress. When severe snowstorms blanket wild food supplies, the birds will turn to the feeder they have come to know as a food resource. It is during these times of stress that the feeder plays its most vital role. Do not let them down at this point! If it is a storm of long duration, the feeding station may mean the difference of life for some of the more physiologically unprepared birds. The feeder helps many a bird through the hard times, so it is important to be faithful to your feeding once you start.
As for the question of affecting migration by holding the birds at the feeder so that they will not go north to breed or south for the winter, the answer is that birds are not controlled by food. Once the hormones for breeding begin to flow, they head north, and once the drive for migrating south takes hold, off they go, no matter how much food is available. If a species that normally does not stay for the summer or winter remains at the feeder, it is more than likely a young bird that does not have the proper hormonal impulse to migrate or an older bird that simply can no longer make extensive journeys. You are not affecting the breeding or migrant population of the birds of the United States by feeding.