He cited just two studies in the United Kingdom showing negative effects of feeding a type of European chickadee in winter. One study found that “….birds fed during winter subsequently laid a smaller number of eggs that had lower hatching success and ultimately fledged fewer young than birds that weren’t fed at all.” Another U.K. study of a related species had similar results.
But the overwhelming majority of studies, says Smith, show definitely positive effects, especially during severe winters. For example, according to a Wisconsin study during the winter, “black-capped chickadees with access to bird seed had a much higher overwinter survival rate (69 percent) as compared to those without access to human-provided seed (37 percent survival).”
Smith also points out that “when birds are young and inexperienced, or when they are living in low-quality habitats,” some studies show that feeding “can promote the survival and reproduction of the not-quite-fittest.”
So what kinds of bird seed and supplemental feeding should you use in winter? There are more than a dozen varieties out there. But if you are going to use just one, experts recommend the small black-oil sunflower seed, which has nutritious, high-oil content. According to
For a useful table showing a wide variety of bird species, their food preferences , and feeders that work well for each species, click here.
If you’d like to make your own supplemental food, here’s a recipe that kids can help you with–a mixture of peanut butter and other items that is a favorite of chickadees, titmice, wrens, and even bluebirds. Use it to plug up holes in log feeder, or spread on tree bark or pine cones:
- 1 cup peanut butter
- 1 cup vegetable shortening
- 4 cups cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- 1 handful of sunflower seeds (optional)
Black-capped chickadee image courtesy Tony Northrup.