Jams and jellies are fast and easy foods to offer backyard birds that have a sweet tooth, but birders should know what type of jelly is best and how to offer it as a safe treat birds can enjoy.
Many types of jelly can be ideal for birds, but the most preferred flavor for backyard birds is a dark grape jelly. Other flavors, such as mixed berry, blackberry, apple, cherry, raspberry, red currant and even orange marmalade can also be popular options.
Jellies with real fruit and fruit juice offer the best nutrition for birds, including high concentrations of sugar and carbohydrates that can be excellent energy for active birds. Jelly also contains other trace nutrients birds need for a balanced diet.
Any brand of jelly can be offered to backyard birds, but ideally brands and blends with fewer preservatives will be healthier. Sugar-free options or those that use sugar substitutes such as aspartame, sucralose or stevia are not suitable for birds because they do not provide the proper energy source that birds can digest, but the jelly can be inexpensive or outdated and birds won't mind.
Birds That Eat Jelly
While most oriole and woodpecker species will eagerly feast on jelly wherever and whenever it is offered, many other backyard visitors may also sample the treat. Birds that have been noted eating jelly include:
- American robin
- Black-headed grosbeak
- Brown thrasher
- Cape May warbler
- Cassin's finch
- Cedar waxwing
- European starling
- Gray catbird
- House finch
- Northern cardinal
- Northern mockingbird
- Orange-crowned warbler
- Rose-breasted grosbeak
- Scarlet tanager
- Western tanager
Any bird that has a partially frugivorous diet is likely to sample jelly, and backyard birders may be surprised at what different birds they can attract if they offer this treat at a feeding station.
Furthermore, lizards, butterflies and other sweet-loving wildlife may also stop by for a taste.
How to Feed Jelly
Like any kitchen scraps, jelly should be fed to birds in small amounts as a treat. Small dishes are safest for feeding jelly, since enthusiastic birds might land in larger dishes and inadvertently coat their feathers with the sweet, sticky mess, impeding their flight abilities and making them vulnerable to predators. Many wild bird stores offer a range of specialized jelly feeders that include small dishes or can accommodate a whole jelly jar so birds can help themselves a bit at a time. For an easy feeder, birders can offer jelly in half an orange rind or in the lid from an empty jar.
The birds that eat jelly are generally migratory, and jelly is best offered during migration, when birds need rich energy sources to refuel along their migratory routes. Jelly can also be a great option during cold spells when birds need to reenergize quickly, and the sugar in jelly is a superb choice to help them do just that. During the heat of summer, however, it is best to minimize jelly offerings so chicks are fed healthier, higher protein foods for strong growth. Jelly can also ferment in the summer heat, and should be placed in cooler, shaded areas to keep it fresh as long as possible.
Because jelly can attract insects, smaller quantities can keep feeding areas cleaner, and backyard birders should never use insecticides or pesticides around feeders.
Make Your Own Bird Jelly
It's easy to make simple jelly to offer birds. The healthiest and easiest option is just crushing grapes – red grapes or concord grapes are best – and offering the crushed fruit in a dish for the birds, no extra sweetening or other ingredients required. Backyard birders with canning and preserving experience can use any favored family recipe for grape or berry jelly to feed birds, but trimming some of the sugar content and minimizing other ingredients will make it healthier for the birds. While an adjusted recipe may not appeal to human tastes, the birds will still enjoy the treat and birders will enjoy knowing they are offering a more nutritious option for their feathered friends.
Jelly is a popular food to offer summer birds, and so long as it is offered in moderation, it can be a great treat to attract a wide range of colorful birds to the backyard feeding station. Whether offering crushed grapes, a homemade jelly recipe or easy jelly from the grocery store, birders can feed birds jelly easily and enjoy the sweetness of birds in their backyard.
Photo – Blackberry Jam © Phillip Stewart