Worst Foods for Birds

Top 10 Bad Foods to Feed Backyard Birds

worst foods for birds

The Spruce

Every backyard birder wants to offer their feathered friends a healthy, nutritious buffet, and the key to attracting more birds is to use a variety of different foods, but what foods are bad choices? Poor foods can lead to malnutrition, disease, and avian obesity that can hinder birds' responses to predators and resistance to poor weather and diseases. Avoid these 10 bad foods for birds and you'll be sure to be providing your birds the best possible diet.

  • 01 of 10

    Spoiled Seed

    birdseed with mold

    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    Birdseed can go bad if it is improperly stored or allowed to rot in poor conditions, and the bugs, mold, and bacteria in spoiled seed can cause diseases among feeder birds. Always check to be sure seed is dry and fresh without strong or sharp odors, and change seed after feeders have gotten soaked to keep seed from spoiling. Any seed that is clumped, moldy, or sprouting should be discarded.

  • 02 of 10



    The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    While a tiny amount of bread may be acceptable to feed birds as a rare and special treat, large quantities are poor, unhealthy food with little nutritional value. If you want to offer bread, opt for healthy bread such as whole grain varieties, and make a “sandwich” that includes peanut butter, suet, seed, and other appropriate foods instead of offering plain bread. No bread that is moldy or rotten should ever be offered to birds.

  • 03 of 10

    Old Nectar

    expired nectar

    The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    Nectar for hummingbirds and orioles is easy and quick to make, so there is no excuse for not using fresh nectar. Old nectar looks cloudy or discolored and may show floating particles. When spoiled, nectar can harbor mold and bacteria that is fatal to birds, so it is best to refresh nectar every few days, cleaning the feeders simultaneously to avoid contamination by old residue.

  • 04 of 10


    approved fruit for birds
    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    Do not offer birds any fruit or seed that has been treated with pesticides, herbicides, or other potentially toxic chemicals. Even small quantities of these chemicals can be fatal to birds, and poisons may build up in birds' bodies to cause breeding problems or be passed along to young birds. If the fruit you want to offer birds is questionable, wash it before adding it to feeders, or opt for growing your own produce and sunflower seeds for birds.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Potato Chips

    potato chips

    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    Junk food such as chips, cheese puffs, corn chips, pretzels, and other foods are all bad for birds. They offer very little nutritional value and are filled with processed chemicals that have not been tested on birds, so their effects cannot be predicted. If you want to offer a unique treat instead, offer plain, air-popped popcorn with no salt or other toppings, or consider other kitchen scraps for birds.

  • 06 of 10

    Raw Meat

    ground meat

    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    Many birds are carnivorous, but avoid offering raw meat in any form, including ground meats or meat scraps. These foods can spoil very quickly and will grow dangerous bacteria without proper storage. Instead, offer fatty protein such as suet to give birds a nutritious and safe option.

  • 07 of 10



    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    Scraps of cookies, donuts, cakes, pies, cupcakes, and other sweet baked goods may seem perfect for birds, but just like other junk food, they do not offer good nutrition and are packed with processed ingredients and additives that are not suitable for birds. Instead, make bird “cookies” from suet, cornmeal, ​peanut butter, and other healthy foods.

  • 08 of 10


    honey dripping into a bowl

    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling

    Honey is a natural sweetener and can be healthy for humans, but it is not good for birds. Even the best quality, organic honey can harbor bacteria and grow mold that can be fatal to backyard birds. Avoid using honey to make hummingbird nectar or oriole nectar and do not include it in any suet cake recipes or homemade ornament projects.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10


    salt in a scoop

    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling 

    Foods high in salt are not good for humans, and the same is true for birds. While common backyard birds can process small amounts of salt without difficulty, large quantities are dangerous. Avoid offering birds any foods high in salt, such as salty meats, chips, or other animal foods that include salt for nutritional value. Similarly, no salty seeds, such as sunflower snacks, should be given to birds.

  • 10 of 10



    ​The Spruce / Ruthie Darling 

    Unlike mammals, birds are largely lactose intolerant and cannot ingest large quantities of milk. Like salt, they can tolerate small quantities, but foods high in milk are poor food choices. Avoid offering birds any soft cheeses or milk directly, and instead concentrate on healthier diet choices. Especially avoid feeding baby birds milk, even if the species normally gets crop milk from its parents.

The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Burt, Sara A et al. Nutritional implications of feeding free-living birds in public urban areas. Journal of animal physiology and animal nutrition vol. 105,2 (2021): 385-393. doi:10.1111/jpn.13441

  2. Cox, Caroline. Pesticides and Birds: From DDT to Today's Poisons. McGill Journal of Pesticide Reform.

  3. Storing Meat In Your Refrigerator - Meat Safety for the Consumer. University of Illinois

  4. Olaitan, Peter B et al. Honey: a reservoir for microorganisms and an inhibitory agent for microbes. African health sciences vol. 7,3 (2007): 159-65. doi:10.5555/afhs.2007.7.3.159

  5. How to Take Care of Birds. Broadview University