10 Things You Aren’t Feeding Birds…Yet

Don’t limit your birds to seed, suet and sugar water. Keep ’em coming back for more by feeding birds the best buffet on the block.

When was the last time you added a new feeder to your backyard? Or put out a special treat for the birds? Even if you’ve been feeding backyard birds for years, there are probably a few things you haven’t tried yet. And adding new things is the best way to attract a wider variety of species to your space. Give one of these fun food options a try and see what you can attract.

Peanut Butter

I know many folks who have stopped buying suet cakes and now make their own, with peanut butter as the base. Others have made the switch from feeding peanuts, either in or out of the shell, to offering peanut butter instead. You can stuff the holes of a log feeder with peanut butter or even just smear it on tree bark.

Woodpeckers and blue jays relish peanut butter snacks. You can also put it out for species like nuthatches that will store caches of peanuts but would be hard-pressed to stock up on jars of peanut butter!

Jelly

What goes better with peanut butter than jelly? Grape jelly is becoming a go-to offering for orioles. Gray catbirds and red-bellied woodpeckers are among the other species that can’t resist the sweet, fruity stuff. You can buy a special jelly feeder, but any shallow container will also do the trick.

Fruit

Many lodges in the tropics offer fruit to draw birds in for close viewing. Tanagers are keen on these fruit feeding stations, and some folks who live farther north have been fortunate enough to lure the brilliantly colored western, summer and scarlet tanagers to their own backyards. Orioles love orange halves; when they’ve eaten the fruit, fill the empty peels with jelly. Also try putting out berries or raisins, or experiment with any fruit you happen to have. You just might attract mockingbirds or robins.

Butterflies flock to fruit, too. I’ve used a window feeder to offer apples and bananas and had great success attracting these pretty fliers.

Mealworms

Try adding some mealworms to your buffet. Some people have success with oven-roasted worms, while others swear by the live ones. I keep a container of the latter in my refrigerator door, and the only real maintenance is to toss in a carrot for them once in a while (they need to eat, too!). Mealworm feeders need to be a couple of inches deep so the worms won’t crawl out. Although it might take the birds a while to find your mealworms, once they do, they’ll be hooked. Mealworms are like candy to them. I offer a dozen or so at a time. The birds will quickly train you to feed them on a regular schedule by scolding you when you slack off.

Mealworms appeal to a wide range of birds, including some species that don’t usually come to traditional feeders. Some of the most common are bluebirds and robins.

Bird Feeding: American Goldfinch on a sunflower

John Gill American goldfinch on a sunflower.

Roasted Seeds

Plenty of birds are seedeaters, but think beyond the usual sunflower and safflower varieties. Try roasting pumpkin or squash seeds; you can bake up a batch, share half with the birds, plain, and season the other half to your own liking. Then you’ll be snacking right along with the birds that you’re watching. Northern cardinals, sparrows and other seed specialists will especially enjoy the variety.

Baked Eggshells

These provide calcium, which can be especially important for females during nesting season. But it’s essential that you wash and bake the shells to kill off any potential pathogens. You wouldn’t want to give your feathered guests food poisoning or something even worse. After you bake the shells, crush them and add them to your seed, or just sprinkle them on the ground. You can also offer them in a platform feeder.

Compost

When I was growing up, my grandpa had the biggest compost pile ever. I remember hauling out the scraps in an old ice cream bucket and tossing them on the pile. I also remember that black-billed magpies were always eager to greet me at the pile. Just remember that your compost pile is fair game for other critters, too. I could always count on spotting a raccoon on my grandpa’s after dark.

Stale Nuts

It seems like there are always some leftover nuts around, especially during the holidays. If you’ve got unsalted nuts that are past their prime, put them out and see which birds will take a bite. Salted nuts are OK, too, but put them in a paper bag first and shake off some of the excess salt. A little salt won’t hurt birds, but too much isn’t good for them.

Plants

This one might sound obvious, but its importance can’t be overstated. One of the best ways to diversify your backyard feeding station is to garden for birds. (And not just for the hummingbirds.) Plant some native berries or fruit trees, or let your flowers go to seed, and you’ll reap the avian rewards in all seasons.

Suet Creations

Traditional suet is made of beef fat, but Birds & Blooms hears frequently from readers who rave about their homemade suet recipes. Some use lard, peanut butter, coconut, raisins, birdseed and much more to make suet cakes. So experiment with the foods mentioned above and see what tasty bird treat you can come up with!

Feeding Birds:

MORE BIRDS FEEDING FACTS FROM OUR EXPERT

Though it’s been a tradition for decades, experts say you shouldn’t feed bread to birds because it can lead to nutritional problems. Here are more tips to attracting birds to your backyard!

THE LEAST PICKY EATERS

No matter what you’re serving, these birds will eat it.

  • Blue jays. They’ll eat just about anything and are not bashful about it.
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers. Known for munching on seed, suet, fruit, mealworms and many other offerings.
  • Grackles. They’re not just less picky eaters, they’re also some of the messiest.

BIRDS THAT LIKE ORANGES

  • Gray catbirds
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • Northern mockingbirds
  • Brown thrashers
  • Orioles
  • Tanagers
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

WHAT NOT TO FEED THE BIRDS

  • Chocolate
  • Table scraps
  • Potato chips
  • Bread
  • Other baked goods

Photo: Carol L. Edwards

  1. Janice says

    In the article 10 things you’re not feeding birds….yet, bread and other baked goods are on the list of what not to feed. Can you explain why? I have been putting out stale bread for birds for years and now find that was wrong!

    • Nancy says

      Ladies who are questioning the used of bread and/or baked goods; this is why I do not put out either for “our” birds.
      First, I’m in my late sixties, and have been a licensed wild bird rehabilitator since my mid-twenties.
      Baked egg shells, sliced oranges, black niger seeds, Sunflower seeds, various small seeds, small pieces of nut meats, raisins, grape jelly, suet: store suet–lots of nuts and fruit; homemade suet — peanut butter, nuts, fruits, ‘Crisco’ or lard, et al. Make certain that birds have clean water year ’round….I’ve had Robins bathe in water covered with snow.
      Unless you want to be feeding ‘city’ pigeons, starlings, grackles, then feed the above-mentioned birds….and more vacuum cleaner birds will be gobbling all of the set-out food for the other birds….in moments all foods will be gone/eaten. This is the reason for no bread and/or baked goods.
      The birds you do not want gobbling all of the ‘bird food’ will be the ones eating everything — each and every time you put food out. In addition, a song bird you’d love to have in your yard might choke on dry breads.
      You’ll hear other reasons, but take all with a grain of grain…….

        • Georgina Wiede says

          I am going to put out some oranges for the birds also.. I have several summer tanagers who show up for water. I have multiple bird baths and other water containers out for them. I also do my watering of my flower beds (for the birds and butterflies) by putting my water hose on a stand with a sprayer nozzle. I let a gently spray go over my flower beds every day just so the birds can play in the water. I usually have dozens of birds in it and quite a few cardinals. I live in 100 degree south Texas and we are in the middle of a terrible drought again so I do what I can for the wildlife.

          • Rick Nofsinger says

            I just wanted to comment on what an excellent article this is and how much I learned from it. Thanks for a great magazine.

      • Ingco56 says

        Bread, potato chips, corn chips etc are empty calories. No nutrition. When you see people feeding ducks loaves of white bread, those birds are filling up on “nothing” which eventually causes nutritional-based illness.

      • Patti says

        Crisco is not healthy for people so I can’t see feeding it to birds. Also, read the ingredients in peanut butter and jelly.if you are going to feed those things to the wildlife , please buy organic.

  2. emilydickinson says

    Jelly, fruit, sweets draw wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, ants! Peanut butter, nuts, of course fancied by squirrels–but these things you can put in squirrel-proof feeder–except larger birds can’t get at. Is there solution?. If you’re ok with squirrels, wasps, etc, go for it. Among the never-feeds should be avacado–that goes for pet birds too.

  3. says

    We have heard that bread products can ‘expand’ , and/or ‘swell’
    in the birds and cause stomach or internal organ problems. True or false , we’re not sure !

  4. says

    This was a great article. I already have some cardinals who fly into my patio door when the feeder is empty.

    I have a problem with doves. I get the rock doves and the Eurasian collared doves (non-native and super aggressive). They are such pigs and never let the other birds at the feeder. Any thoughts on what to feed to NOT attract them?

    Right now I am just putting out seed from the feed store and a heavy fruit mixture that goes in one feeder. The doves don’t like that but the sparrows and finches do.

    • Kim says

      I found the tube feeders work great for the smaller birds. Don’t get one with a tray on the bottom. The doves can’t stand on the little pegs. I keep the regular feeder in the front yard for the doves after all, they have to eat too!!

    • Kim says

      I leave a feeder on the front yard for the Doves and have tube feeders (without a base on the bottom) for the smaller birds. The Doves can’t stand on the little pegs!

  5. Delta says

    I’d try to put fruit out for my bird friends, but it would attract the bushy-tailed rats (otherwise known as squirrels) as well. And suggestions?

    • Maureen Q says

      I love the birds who come to my feeders daily. My main complaint is the greedy squirrels. They not only hog all the food, but they even detached my latest “squirrel-proof” feeder and carried it about one hundred yards into the woods where they live!!! They simply unscrew the top and/or unhook the entire feeder! Any suggestions to outsmart them?

  6. D.J. Zeller says

    Hmmm … interesting. I’ve been putting out stale bread, tortillas, chips, etc for years. I get sparrows, squirrels, doves, blue jays that love it. Didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.

  7. Anna B says

    I have also been putting out bread for years, and the birds seem to like it (I live in New Zealand) I also put out muffin cases if there’s a reasonable amount left on, and with bran muffins there usually is-and I deliberately don’t peel the cases off with too much care :)

    Ours like apples & if a whole one’s put out will hollow it right out. When I eat apples, I cut the cores out and leave a reasonable amount on, but these have to be thrown over the fence onto the verge as the dog likes them. He also ate the seed when that was put on the lawn, so now I have a table for that and water. I found a lovely shallow pottery bowl that seemed tailor-made for a birds water bowl, though I don’t think that it was :D Some messy birds will turn the water into seed soup.

  8. Georgina Wiede says

    I did not see pears mentioned.. in my previous house, there was a concrete cinder block wall I used to put a stoneware bowl on and would keep ripe pears on it. One day, I looked out and there was an entire family of woodpeckers eating it! Mocking birds loved it also. I loved seeing 2 baby woodpeckers and their mamma all munching on the pear at the same time!

  9. Annette says

    I have a question about the baked egg shells….do you still have to bake them if you made hard boiled eggs???? And how long do you bake them for and what temp??

    I love feeding my birds….those darn squirrels are greedy little btards tho!!!! ugh!! I also make my own suet…they love it!! They eat mine all gone and don’t touch the store bought ones!! :) I just can’t put it out in the summer, it melts.

    Thanks for all the info…I love reading the posts!

  10. Donna says

    I once found the top of my feeder all chewed up, since we don’t have squirrels, I couldn’t figure what happened. Looked like a dog chewed it! But, it’s 8 ft off the ground. THEN, one hot night, I was swinging near it, and saw a FLYING squirrel! ahha! It was the flying squirrel who did it. My Mom had a pecan tree, so I got a bag of them, and placed cracked ones in a gallon ice cream bucket, and hung it on a plant hanger I nailed to the tree on the other side of the seed feeder. I had flying squirrels in DROVES coming in to eat the pecans, and left the seed alone! They are SO cute and funny! I loved them more than the birds, and was getting within one foot of them when I had to move away. I often wonder what happened to them. I would swing at night and listen to them whistling, and flying from tree to tree to get to my treat. I miss them VERY much!

  11. Pat says

    After trying quite a bit of grape jelly in a special container on a picnic table for 3 days and having it disappear very quickly, I kept closer watch to see who or what was eating it. It seems a couple of cats had been visiting our neighborhood and enjoyed the jelly! Normally we do no see cats running loose in our neighborhood and have not seen them since I quit putting out the jelly. Now that winter seems to be near at hand, we will put out other bird foods.

  12. Deborah Barr Cairns says

    How do you keep the hornets, ants etc. out of the fruit and jelly? My hummers are in a fierce fight right now with the bees. It is bee season in Indiana.

  13. Lois Lindeman says

    Is there a rule of thumb as to how far apart the feeders should be ? I have several (5) but not a lot of room….they do get busy but are they too crowded ?
    I don’t have Tananger’s or Orioles but I do have the cat birds…is an Oriole feeder the best way to serve the oranges ? How long to leave it out before you change it ? Have always used PB for homemade feed, is Crisco really ok ?? Thanks for the info.

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