There are several reasons you may be wondering about what to feed birds from the kitchen. Perhaps you ran out of bird seed and you have a bunch of hungry cardinals and robins in your backyard but you can’t get to the store until tomorrow.
Or maybe you have plenty of bird seed but you are looking to be a little less wasteful with your kitchen scraps.
Regardless of the reason, there are many everyday kitchen items that you probably didn’t know your backyard friends will relish. In this article I will go over some of those as well as some that you should avoid feeding them.
In addition I’ll talk about the benefits, the drawbacks, and the best ways to feed birds from the kitchen.
List of items you can feed backyard birds
Fruits and vegetables
There are many birds that enjoy eating fruit. Having fruiting trees and shrubs, such as apple, pear, orange, blackberry and raspberry, will attract many birds such as orioles, mockingbirds, catbirds and sapsuckers.
- Melon, Pumpkin and Squash seeds (toss outside as is, or even better bake in the oven until dry and sprinkle on a platform feeder)
- Veggies – birds actually have trouble digesting many raw vegetables, but peas, sweet corn and potatoes with the skin removed will be fine.
Pasta and Rice
Perhaps it is the starch and carbs, but some birds really enjoy cooked pasta and rice. Make sure it is plain, without sauce or added salt. Also be sure to keep an eye on it for spoilage. Birds may also enjoy uncooked rice. If you’ve ever heard that it is bad to throw uncooked rice at a wedding because it will expand in a birds stomach and kill them, rest assured that is just a myth.
Breads and cereals
- Cereal – many birds enjoy plain cereals. Bran flakes, toasted oat, plain Cheerios, corn flakes or plain cereals with fruit and nuts. Crush with a rolling pin before feeding so birds do not have trouble swallowing large chunks. Also remember not to feed sugar-coated cereals or cereals with marshmallows added.
- Breads – This is up for debate as bread has little nutritional value for birds. White bread has almost none so whole grain bread is preferable as it has more fiber. Stale, crumbled up bread is fine to feed. If you do give birds bread, do not give them more than they can eat.
- Other baked goods – small bits of cakes and biscuits may also be fed, but steer clear of anything with sugary frosting or jellies.
Meats and cheeses
Foods from the meat and dairy category are best fed in the winter. They are foods that spoil easily, so the cold winter temperatures will keep them edible for longer.
- Bacon – you’ve likely seen suet cakes available to purchase for birds, which are made with animal fat. Many birds love to use this fat as an energy source. Bacon grease can be collected and cooled in the refrigerator, then put out for birds to enjoy. You can even mix some bird seed in with the grease and then solidify. Mold into any shape you want and hang outside!
- Cheese – ok in moderation. Studies have shown that birds cannot digest lactose and may suffer the same stomach upset as a lactose-intolerant human if too much dairy is consumed. However certain cheeses can be very low in lactose, therefore birds should be fine to eat those as a treat here and there. Some low lactose cheeses are Camembert, Cheddar, Provolone, Parmesan and Swiss.
Leftover nuts gone stale? Chances are your backyard birds will still love them. Plain is always best, try to avoid salted or seasoned nuts.
- Hickory nuts
- Pine nuts
Other kitchen scraps and foods
- Eggshells – this may seem strange, but female birds expend a lot of calcium when laying their own eggs. Believe it or not, birds will eat eggshells! Eating egg shells is a quick way for them to replenish that calcium. This would be a great treat to leave out during egg-laying season. You can save and rinse your eggshells, then bake at 250 degrees F for 20 minutes. This will sterilize them and make them brittle and easy to crumble.
- Pet food – most dog and cat kibble can be consumed by birds safely. Not all birds will enjoy this, but meat eating birds like jays may find it very attractive. Just remember, this type of food may attract other unwanted critters like raccoons.
- Peanut butter – best used during cold months when the cooler temperatures will keep the peanut butter firm. In the warm months, it can become too soft, oily, and rancid.
What not feed wild birds
- Chocolate – the theobromine and caffeine found in chocolate can affect a birds digestive system and in large enough doses cause increased heart rate, tremors and death.
- Avocado – this fruit contains a fungicidal toxin called Persin, which birds seem particularly susceptible to.
- Moldy bread – stale bread is fine to feed, but if bread has visible mold it needs to be thrown away. Birds would get sick from eating it just as you would.
- Onions and garlic – long known to be toxic to dogs and cats, large amounts of onion and garlic can cause similar toxicity to birds.
- Fruit pits & apple seeds – the pits or seeds of fruits in the rose family – plums, cherries, apricots, nectarines, pears, peaches, and apples – all contain cyanide. It is fine to slice and feed these fruits, just make sure to take the seeds out first.
- Mushrooms – the caps and stems in some varieties of mushrooms can cause digestive upset and even liver failure. Without knowing which kinds may cause trouble, probably safer to avoid them altogether.
- Uncooked beans – uncooked beans contains a toxin called hemagglutinin. However beans can be safely offered to birds after they are fully cooked.
- Salt – too much salt can lead to dehydration and kidney / liver dysfunction. Therefore avoid putting out salty snacks like pretzels and chips.
Best bird feeders for kitchen scraps
A typical tube feeder or window feeder isn’t going to be ideal for feeding birds kitchen scraps. They are built for bird seed and just aren’t going to be the best choice for putting pieces of food in that aren’t as small as sunflower, safflower, millet and other small seeds.
Something like this platform bird feeder from Woodlink that you can get on Amazon would work great. There’s plenty of room for larger items such as apples (seeds removed) or other items on the list. It’s easy to clean off as well.
If you are looking to stick to just sliced fruit, something simple such as the Songbird Essentials Double Fruit Feeder would do the trick. All you need is a solid wire to skewer slices / halves of fruit. Works great for something like oranges or apples.
Benefits of feeding birds from the kitchen
Feeding your backyard birds kitchen scraps can have benefits that regular bird seed does not. Especially in the winter months and during migration, kitchen scraps such as bacon grease, cheeses, and fruits can provide birds with essential nutrients that they need, and a more varied diet.
During these periods, birds require more energy which includes food sources that have higher fat and protein contents. That’s why winter months can be an ideal times to share your kitchen scraps with your backyard birds rather than just tossing them in the trash. You can feed them these items all year long as well, just never as a replacement for bird seed.
Feeding birds from the kitchen has its advantages and can be beneficial for birds but does have some drawbacks. These types of foods attract several types of pests including raccoons, opossums, deer and squirrels, to name a few.
In addition, meats and fruits can quick rot and become rancid if they aren’t eaten quickly. You will have to keep a close watch on these types of foods if you leave them out, and remove them at the first signs of spoilage.
If this topic interests you and you want to find out more about different types of foods you can feed, a book that is highly recommended on Amazon is The Backyard Birdfeeder’s Bible: The A to Z Guide to Feeders, Seed Mixes, Projects and Treats by Sally Roth.