We had a very rare snowstorm here which left the ground covered in 8" of snow and trees covered in snow and ice. It'll likely all melt away in the coming days as we have sunny days and temps rise above freezing.

I noticed some birds poking around the snow on my back deck, so I cut up some raw untoasted walnuts and almonds into small pieces and and scattered them out on the deck and have seen a number of small birds stopping by to feed.

I travel away from home a lot and can't reliably keep a bird feeder stocked, so I'm wondering if this temporary food source is helpful or harmful to the birds since I'm not going to keep it up after the snow melts.

My concern about harm is about causing them to change their behavior and training them to keep looking for food on my deck after I stop feeding them in a few days. I'm assuming that the raw nuts I'm feeding them won't cause any harm even if it's not a well balanced diet, but I don't really have anything more suitable.

I don't know what type of birds they are, they are around 3" high, typical Pacific Northwest birds, I guess.

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  • $\begingroup$ Pets may be better place for your question. It should be on-topic here too. Can you please add some information on what kind of birds are these. That would be an important factor. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Feb 5 '19 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ Pets stack exchange specifically excludes wild animals: not livestock, wildlife, and pests in and around your home. I don't know what kind of birds they are, but I added some photos. Based on this and this answer, Biology seemed to be an appropriate place to ask. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Feb 5 '19 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ it's helpful if you give them healthy food which strengthens them, i.e. natural oily foods like seeds, veg oil and natural whole carbs. oil is the most energetically dense and digestible fattening form of food and in the antarctic a cold guy can eat an entire bar of butter without noticing it. birds like vegetable oils, peanuts, seeds. they had it a bit hard with h1n1 virus, it can help to mitigate the effects of man's destruction on them. it also artificially selects certain birds for favorable survival treatment in the cold spells. $\endgroup$ – aliential Feb 5 '19 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ @com.prehensible please don't answer in comments. If you think you know the answer then please post one with suitable references. $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Feb 5 '19 at 20:23

Feeding for a short period should be helpful, not harmful to the birds, particularly if it is during or following a cold storm. (Ground feeding birds, such as the Junco or Towhee shown in your picture have particular difficulty after a storm covers the ground with snow.) A concern people have with feeding is that feeding will create a dependency of the birds on the artificially supplied food. The worst case of this would be expected to occur during fall migration, where an unusual supply of food might delay birds from migrating, which may be detrimental if they cannot survive the colder weather they may encounter because of the delay. Other than that period, short term feeding should not be problematic since the birds will not develop a strong visiting habit over a short period.

Dependence on human feeding was studied by Brittingham and Temple in an article "Does Winter Bird Feeding Promote Dependency?". This study evaluated chickadees in two areas, one which had supplemental food available for a year. The next year, without food available for either area, showed no difference between the resident birds of the two areas. Although they didn't test suddenly discontinuing food in midwinter, they do comment on that scenario:

We did not test what happens when feeders are removed unexpectedly from a site in the middle of winter, but we suspect that this would not be as detrimental as is typically thought. In winter, a natural food patch may disappear suddenly as a result of a winter snow or ice storm or the foraging activities of other flock members. As a result, chickadees apparently track a number of food patches at all times and sample a number of areas continuously no matter how abundant food is in any one patch. This strategy is necessary for surviving in an unpredictable and fluctuating environment. People consider bird feeders to be a very predictable food source, but in terms of evolutionary time, they have only been available for a very short time. For birds, they are probably no different than any other food patch.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, that's exactly the kind of information I was looking for. I was told by someone that I shouldn't have started feeding them since now they are hooked on using me as a food source and I need to keep it up all winter, but I feel more confident now that just feeding them while there's significant snow cover is better than not feeding them at all. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Feb 6 '19 at 19:16

It does help them if they have proper feed:


studies have shown that birds making it through the winter in better physical condition see those benefits carry over into the nesting season. Bird feeding produces significantly earlier egg laying dates, larger clutches of eggs, higher chick weights and higher overall breeding success across a wide range of bird species2,6.


  • $\begingroup$ I clarified my question that my concern is more about feeding them only for the few days while the snow is on the ground, not general long-term feeding. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Feb 5 '19 at 20:39

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