Birdseed, suet and nectar aren’t the only suitable foods you can feed the birds: there are many different kitchen scraps that can augment more traditional food sources. If used wisely and sparingly, kitchen scraps can easily become a part of your backyard birds’ diet without harm.
Why Feed Birds Kitchen Scraps
Offering scraps as food for birds is a great way to save money on birdseed by using food that might otherwise be thrown away. By turning scraps into bird food, less is wasted and at the same time the birds enjoy a greater variety of treats that can keep them coming back to your feeders.
Are Scraps Healthy?
One of the biggest concerns about feeding kitchen scraps to birds is whether or not scraps and stale food can be a nutritional food source. While a diet composed completely of scraps is less suitable, occasional scraps are easily incorporated into birds’ high metabolic rates without detrimental effects. In winter months, when alternative natural food is minimized, scraps provide greater variety and different proteins, fats and carbohydrates that are not always abundant in birdseed mixes. Small amounts of scraps can also be welcome during migration and nesting seasons when birds require more food and a stronger source of energy to stay healthy.
To offer your backyard birds the healthiest and most appetizing food, augment traditional bird foods with regular scraps in limited quantities, but do not use scraps as a substitute for regular birdseed. Depending on the scraps you have available, you may even attract new and unique bird species to your backyard to enjoy the buffet.
Types of Scraps to Offer Birds
There are many different kitchen scraps that can appeal to backyard birds, including:
- Baked Goods: Stale or dry bread, bread crusts, donuts, cakes, cookies and crackers are all appealing to backyard birds. Break the products up into small pieces and soak very stale pieces in water before offering them to the birds. Uncooked pastry dough is also suitable. Whole grains and less processed baked goods are preferable.
- Cheese: Stale, hard bits of cheese will readily be eaten by birds. Mild flavors such as American or mild cheddar are most suitable, but soft cheeses such as cream cheese are not. No moldy or rancid cheese should be offered to birds at any time.
- Pasta and Rice: Leftover cooked plain pasta or rice is a great source of carbohydrates, especially for granivorous birds. The scraps should be soft, and chopped into small enough pieces to be carried by the birds. Avoid offering leftover pasta with heavy sauces, strong spices or thick cheeses.
- Vegetables: Birds eat a lot of seed and plant material, and scrap vegetables can be a welcome feeder treat. Frozen peas or corn (thawed first), leftover baked potatoes or bits of canned vegetables, even from canned soups, can all be offered to backyard birds.
- Meat: Insects are a popular source of protein for many birds. Offering scrap meats such as bacon rinds, beef grease drippings, beef fat trimmings, meat bones or marrow bones can help birds get essential protein even if insects aren’t available. As with cheese, no rancid or rotten meat should ever be available to birds.
- Pet Food: Both dry and wet food for cats and dogs is formulated to be healthy for pets, and it can be an equally healthy food source for birds. Dry food should be moistened or crushed before offered to the birds.
- Fruit: Windfall or bruised fruit from backyard trees is always appetizing to the birds. The fruit can be collected and chopped up to add to feeders, or it can be left on trees for the birds to find. Other fruits, such as old berries, raisins, grapes, bananas, oranges, grapefruits and the seeds of watermelons, honeydew melons, pumpkins and cantaloupes can also be offered to birds.
- Cereal: Stale or leftover cereal and oats, including rolled or quick oats, is a tasty bird treat. For the best nutrition and most attractiveness, offer birds cereal with a lower sugar content and fewer artificial dyes.
- Nuts: While peanuts can easily be purchased raw as bird food, other nuts such as almonds, pecans and walnuts are also tempting for birds. Offer finely crushed nuts or whole nuts for the birds to take, or use peanut butter to attract different birds. Coconut halves can also be used as small feeders in addition to being tasty treats themselves. Do not offer birds nuts with candy coatings or spice flavorings.
- Eggs and Eggshells: While it may seem contrary at first, cooked eggs can be a popular feeder food that offers many essential nutrients for birds. Crushed eggshells are also an important source of calcium for nesting birds and grit to help birds’ digestion.
How to Feed Scraps to Birds
The easiest way to feed kitchen scraps to birds is by sprinkling the food on a platform feeder, but oily scraps especially can leave undesirable stains. Instead, consider using a hanging cage feeder for larger scraps, or cut up the scraps to mix into a simple bird suet recipe. Feeding scraps on the ground is suitable but may attract pests if they are not eaten promptly.
Problems with Kitchen Scraps
While feeding kitchen scraps to birds may be economical and offer a good variety of foods, there are problems with these alternative foods.
- Pests: Kitchen scraps readily attract rodents and other pests such as mice, rats and raccoons that can be dangerous to backyard birds. To minimize pests, offer scraps in small quantities or choose hanging cage feeders that are less accessible for pests. This will also keep the scraps out of reach of pets.
- Rotting: Kitchen scraps can spoil quickly, and while birds’ tastes are less refined than humans’, unappetizing food will not be consumed. This is particularly true in the late summer and fall when natural food sources are abundant and birds are less likely to take scraps from feeders. During that time, save scraps by freezing them and offer them instead when natural food sources are scarce.
- Poor Health: If birds ate nothing but scraps, they would not get sufficient nutrition for healthy growth or proper energy. Instead, a poor diet could lead to health problems such as obesity or feather deformations. To minimize this risk, offer scraps only on rare occasions and only in limited quantities.
Kitchen scraps, while not the most nutritious choices, are perfectly suitable to offer your backyard birds as an occasional treat. From leftover pasta to stale cheese to eggshells, minimize waste in your kitchen and maximize food sources for the birds by offering a selection of kitchen scraps at your feeders.