9 Foods You Should Never Feed to Birds

Updated: May 03, 2024

Can birds eat bread? Not all people foods are safe for birds. Leave these nine foods off the menu to keep your backyard birds happy and healthy.

can birds eat breadCourtesy Misty Nernard
Song sparrow

When you see small, sweet creatures hopping along, it seems so harmless to draw them in with whatever snacks you have available. Though the urge is fierce to feed birds bread and other convenience foods, try to resist. Dishes people consume, like bread, are generally bad for birds in the same way that junk food is bad for our systems. “Malnutrition is certainly a risk if birds aren’t getting the food that they need,” says John Rowden, senior director for bird-friendly communities at Audubon. “They can be undernourished, which makes them more susceptible to disease, so it could cause health or lethal consequences.” With that knowledge, here’s a list of nine nibbles to avoid feeding your feathered friends.

Check out a list of safe foods birds can eat from the kitchen.

Is Bread Bad for Birds?

can birds eat bread?artJazz/Getty Images

People often ask if birds can eat bread and if bread is bad for birds. Because bread causes birds to become full quickly, fliers may skip foods with actual nutritional value. Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “We discourage people from feeding bread to birds, as there are far too many potential risks. If moldy, bread can be dangerous to birds. Bread gets moldy quickly, and mold can pose a number of health problems for birds. If the chunks of bread are too large, they can actually block the digestive tract. Bread is also more likely to attract raccoons, rats and other unwelcome guests.”

The Kaufmans add, “A regular diet of bread products fed to waterfowl can cause serious harm. So if birds consume bread on a regular basis, the lack of nutrients causes vitamin deficiencies that lead to serious, even fatal health issues.” Learn what foods you can feed to ducks.

Raw Meat

Fresh raw angus beef meat, whole, ground and chopped on parchment paper , wooden cutting board, stone background, top viewSStajic/Getty Images

It might seem like a good idea to set out raw meat as a winter treat, but it can go rancid and spoil—and attract unwanted guests. “As soon as you put raw meat out it starts to transform because it’s outside of a refrigerated environment,” John says. Check out 8 ways to create a bird-safe backyard.

Seeds and Nuts Sold for People

mix of different types of nutsR.Tsubin/Getty Images

Sunflower seeds, nuts and legumes made for humans often have large amounts of salt. Make sure you buy sunflower seeds or peanuts that are produced specifically for birds, leaving out the extra sodium. Or instead of shopping for bird seed, save time and money by growing native plants that produce fruit, seeds and nectar. Favorites include crabapple trees, sunflowers and salvia.

Check out the best blue jay bird feeders for peanuts.

Bacon Fat

bacon cooking in fat in a skilletnazarethman/Getty Images

Avoid using bacon drippings to make suet. This fat is very salty, has additives and spoils easily. The Kaufmans say, “We know it seems as if bacon grease should be OK, since it’s animal fat just like beef suet. But the chemical preservatives in commercial bacon contain carcinogenic compounds that are harmful to birds. These preservatives become more concentrated once cooked. While this doesn’t pose a health threat to humans, it can be harmful to birds. ” To make suet, get high-quality beef fat straight from the butcher, before it gets processed. Lard is a safe alternative to rendered beef suet.

Get answers to common questions about feeding suet to birds.

Potato Chips

close up of potato chipsChris Clor/Getty Images

While this popular snack is often a staple at outdoor gatherings, just like when birds eat bread, it doesn’t provide proper nutrition. Keep these salty snacks for the people at your next picnic. Check out the 10 best foods you aren’t feeding birds yet.


Honeycombs on wooden serving boardArx0nt/Getty Images

You’d think birds could use the calories and sugar, but honey can grow mold in addition to becoming troublesome and sticky. Check out top questions about hummingbird feeders answered by experts.

Red Food Coloring

Red Liquid Food ColoringMichelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

There’s no need to add any food coloring (or any of these ingredients) to your hummingbird sugar water. The dye is harmful and won’t attract more birds. Never feed hummingbirds anything but a mix of four parts water to one part sugar. This is the only homemade hummingbird nectar recipe you need.

Old Birdseed

old bird seed in a plastic bagmaerzkind/Getty Images

Serve fresh seed to ensure your backyard friends aren’t exposed to moldy or rancid food. Learn how to clean bird feeders.

Pet Food

Bowl with dog food on wood backgroundWestend61/Getty Images

Dog and cat food lacks nutrition for birds and may attract mice, rats, raccoons or other backyard pests. Psst—here’s how to keep cats from killing birds.

In the end, it all comes down to mindset. “In their heart of hearts, people are trying to do the right thing, and what they want to do is help birds,” John says. “Great; we want to encourage that, it’s just finding the right foods.”

Next, discover the 3 types of seeds and feeders birds love best.

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