9 Foods You Should Never Feed to Birds

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.

suet feeder downy woodpeckerCourtesy Rich Nelson
Do not put bacon fat in homemade suet

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 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 safe foods that birds can eat from the kitchen.

Bread

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. Learn what foods you can feed to ducks.

Raw Meat

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 5 ways to create a bird-safe backyard.

blue jay eating peanutsCourtesy Janet Wachter
Blue jays love eating peanuts but make sure they are unsalted

Seeds and Nuts Sold for People

Sunflower seeds and legumes made for humans often have large amounts of salt. Birdseed is produced specifically for birds, leaving out the extra sodium. Or instead of shopping for birdseed, save time and money by growing native plants that produce fruit, seeds and nectar. Favorites include crabapple trees, sunflowers and salvia. Attract more backyard birds by feeding peanuts.

Bacon Fat

This fat is very salty, has additives and spoils easily. To make suet, get high-quality fat straight from the butcher, before it gets processed. Get answers to common questions about feeding suet to birds.

Potato Chips

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.

hummingbird feederCourtesy Kristin McKeel
Do not add honey or red food coloring to hummingbird feeders

Honey

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

There’s no need to add any food coloring to your hummingbird sugar water. The dye is harmful and won’t attract more birds. This is the only homemade hummingbird nectar recipe you need.

Old Birdseed

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

how to keep cats from killing birds, indoor cats watching birdsCourtesy Bobbi Russell/Country magazine
Keep cat food (and cats) indoors to protect birds

Pet Food

Dog and cat food lacks nutrition for birds and may attract mice, rats 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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Kelsey Roseth
Kelsey Roseth is a freelance journalist and passionate birder based in Duluth, Minnesota. She is working to create a welcoming backyard for her favorite feathered friends.