The Right Way to Serve Cracked Corn for Birds

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Can birds eat corn? This yellow treat can fill a niche for backyard visitors. Follow these best practices for serving cracked corn for birds.

How to Serve Cracked Corn to Birds

Snow bunting eating cracked cornSteve and Dave Maslowski
Snow bunting eating cracked corn

Whether it’s cracked, shelled or on the cob, corn has a role to play in a backyard bird buffet. It will never be the star of your yard offerings, but it is more than just filler. Corn is an affordable option that serves an important purpose for many species, from pheasants to thrashers, when served safely. According to Ron Holt, co-owner and vice president of Des Moines Feed Co. in Iowa, the key to feeding cracked corn to birds is limiting it to small quantities each day. Putting out too much can attract unwanted visitors to the backyard, among other potential problems.

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What Is Cracked Corn?

California quails Courtesy Douglas Beall
California quails may check out cracked corn.

All feeder corn is dried out for long-term storage. Cracked corn is removed from the cob before being ground into smaller bits. Coarse, medium and finely cracked corn are common varieties.

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Birds That Eat Corn

Blue jay eating cornCourtesy Therese Powell
Blue jay eating corn

Ron says cracked corn can be just the ticket to attract birds such as turkey, quail, grouse and pheasants to your yard. Southwestern thrashers and native sparrows, including juncos and towhees, also do a chicken-scratch dance as they forage for cracked corn at ground level.

House sparrows, blackbirds and starlings are also fans of cracked corn. If you don’t appreciate these visitors, limit how much you serve.

Kernels are dried to create shelled corn, sometimes called kernel corn, which is a favorite of grouse and quail. “It’s a game bird type of product,” says Ron.

It is also a treat for many waterfowl species. In areas where feeding ducks is allowed, corn is a better alternative to stale bread, which provides minimal nutrients. Note that it may currently be inappropriate to offer any food to waterfowl because of avian influenza. Contact your local university extension office for their recommendations.

Crows, jays and other large songbirds nibble on these corn nuggets when served on tray or platform feeders. Squirrels will also snack on shelled corn. Psst—if you want to feed squirrels, check out these tips.

Best Bird Feeders for Corn

Male wood duck at a squirrel ear corn feederCourtesy Pam Davis
Male wood duck at an ear corn feeder

Whole dried cobs are called ear corn. A bonus or a drawback, is that ear corn draws other critters too. Special feeders offer the cobs to both birds and squirrels. Ear corn is usually held in place by a screw; so squirrels, raccoons or deer don’t haul off the entire treat.

“Make it a fun thing,” Ron says. “Buy a squirrel bungee, picnic table or chair-shaped feeder and enjoy nature’s acrobats.”

elevated tray feederVia Merchant

Another option is to keep corn off the ground and covered with an elevated tray feeder like this one from Etsy.

Next, learn how to attract more new species with peanuts for birds.

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Ken Keffer
Professional naturalist and award-winning environmental educator and author Ken Keffer has penned seven books connecting kids and the outdoors. Ken is currently on the Outdoor Writers Association of America Board of Directors. Ken was born and raised in Wyoming. He's done a little bit of everything, from monitoring small mammals in Grand Teton National Park to researching flying squirrels in southeast Alaska. Ken enjoys birding, floating on lazy rivers, fly fishing, and walking his dog.