We have often heard the comment "I don't feed birds because I travel and I don't want to make them dependent on our feeding." Often we are asked about this at our booth at various birding festivals and trade shows. For the longest time, I really didn't have a good answer based on facts. Now I do. Margaret Brittingham at the University of Wisconsin's Wildlife Ecology Department conducted a three-year study, tracking 576 Black-capped Chickadees and found no difference in the rates of survival of feeder visitors to wild foragers. Her study indicates that feeder birds obtained only 20 to 25% of their daily energy requirements from feeder food. However, when temperatures dropped below 10 degrees Fahrenheit the chickadees increasingly turned to feeder seeds. The goal of Brittingham's study was to learn whether birds become dependent on feeders and loose the ability to forage in the wild. Her study did not support that premise. The specific citation for this study is Journal of Field Ornithology, 63(2):190-194: Does Winter Bird Feeding Promote Dependency, by Margaret C. Brittingham and Stanley A. Temple.
With this said, let's get out there and put up the bird feeders. Birds are colorful and interesting. They provide a wonderful link for both children and adults with the natural world around us. Studies show that relaxing and enjoying the birds coming into a feeder reduces stress. These are good things for you and your family. The food does help the birds out so it is a win-win situation. And you will not make them dependent on your feeding in the process.