What Not To Feed Wild Birds – 15 Worst Foods

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew what not to feed wild birds?

We’ve all done it. A kitchen scrap here or there thrown out to the birds.

But now you’re becoming more aware that birds have quite specific diet needs to stay healthy.

Fact: Wild birds are likely to try most human foods offered to them. Especially when food is limited in colder months.

But the reality is that just because they do eat it doesn’t mean they should eat it.

An unspoken rule of feeding wildlife is: do not feed what might cause harm.

And now you’re wondering if there are any foods you’ve offered that may actually be harming your backyard birds, rather than helping them.

The thought just doesn’t bear thinking about.

If you’re worried about feeding your backyard birds the wrong foods, then you’re in the right place.

This guide has been created to help you blacklist certain foods from your birdfeeders.

Not only will you find out what not to feed wild birds, but also why you shouldn’t offer these foods.

Sound good to you?

Yep, I thought so. Let’s get to it.

worst food to feed wild birds

What Not To Feed Wild Birds – 15 Worst Foods

1. Bacon

Don’t serve bacon in your bird feeders.

It might seem like the ideal food to provide wild birds with protein and fats.

But stop!

Bacon is full of additives that are bad for birds. The main ones are nitrates and salt.

You should know there is a debate about whether or not you can offer birds uncooked bacon fat.

Unless you can be sure about the salt content of the bacon I would avoid offering this to your backyard birds.

Bacon drippings are another no-no to offer wild birds. Cooking bacon leaves traces of cancer-causing additives in drippings, which are very harmful to wild birds’ health.

2. Salt

Just like us humans, too much salt is bad for birds.

Yes, they need some salt in their diet. But, offering highly salted food to birds can be dangerous for their health.

A heavily salted piece of food such as one chip is nothing to you. But it can throw a tiny bird’s body into chaos.

My advice?

Never offer up very salted foods in your feeders.

But more than that. Make sure that anything you offer from your kitchen is as plain as possible.

That means no adding salt or seasoning in the cooking process. If you have, then don’t offer it to the birds.

3. Avocado

Avocado is high-risk food that you should avoid feeding to birds.

What’s the big deal? Isn’t it a fruit?

Avocado contains persin. This is an anti-fungal toxin that causes heart and lung problems for birds. It’s also known to kill birds.

Although there are some bird species that can eat avocado, it’s difficult to know which ones it will affect.

When you’re unsure, it’s best to play it safe and not put it on offer.

I’m sure you’d rather healthy birds over killing a few with your guacamole leftovers.

4. Chocolate

Unfortunately, birds can’t share your love of chocolate.

Although a little sweet treat might seem ideal for your yard visits, don’t do it.

Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine.

Theobromine causes a bird’s digestive distress as well and heart and breathing difficulties.

Caffeine has similar effects on birds. So it’s almost a double whammy.

Less than 1oz of chocolate can be fatal to a larger bird, so imagine what it will do to a smaller backyard bird.

So keep those sweet treats to yourself.

5. Onions

Onions are not a safe food to feed birds.

I bet you found this one surprising because I did too.

You’re probably wondering why such a common vegetable is so bad for wild birds.

The truth is that onions have a high sulfur content. When birds eat sulfur it can burn their insides causing ulcers and anemia.

So what does that mean?

Apart from not putting onions directly into your feeders. You need to be mindful of offering birds anything cooked alongside onions.

6. Bread

Bread? I hear you protest.

But doesn’t everyone feed bread to birds?!

Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news but commercial bread is not good for birds at all.

In fact, that goes for most bakery products such as bagels, buns biscuits, and loaves.

So why the conflicting information?

The truth is that feeding birds’ bread won’t harm them.

Yet, bread offers no nutritional value to birds at all. It’s empty calories.

The risk is that birds can easily fill up on bread and then not go on to eat food with the nutrients they need.

Offering too much bread in your feeders leads to unhealthy birds with vitamin deficiencies.

7. Fats

Well, this one just has to be wrong. Don’t birds need fat to survive?

And you’d be 100% right.

The issue with offering birds fat to eat is that it has to be the right type of fat.

Saturated fats are what they need. Beef fats are ideal, and you’ve probably seen suet or lard feeders for your yard.

What you need to avoid is fats such as oils that remain soft or runny even when cooled.

A prime example is turkey fat from your leftover thanksgiving meal which is dangerous for birds.

Not only does it not provide them with the right energy but it can harm their feathers.

Think of melted fat causing the same problems for your backyard bird as an oil spill causes seabirds.

8. Fruit Pits & Seeds

This one may shock you, but fruit pips and some seeds can be fatal for birds.

The reason behind this one is that many seeds and pits contain cyanide.

That’s right, that same chemical that you find in those ‘suicide pills’ that spies use in movies.

This doesn’t affect humans as it’s a small dose for us but for a small bird it’s lethal.

The main culprits are:

  • Cherry pits
  • Peach pits
  • Plum pits
  • Pear seeds
  • Apricot pit
  • Nectarines pits
  • Apple seeds

You’ll be glad to know that the flesh of these fruits can be offered as long as you remove the seed or pit.

The good news is that not all fruits fall under the unsafe category.

Fruit seeds and pits which are safe for birds to eat are:

  • Grapes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Squash
  • Pumpkins
  • Tomatoes
  • Melons
  • Mango
  • Pomegranate
  • Berries

9. Milk

Just like bread and salt, milk is not a good food choice to offer wild birds.

The main reason is that birds are lactose intolerant.

This means fresh milk and soft cheese are off the cards for your feeders.

You should know that birds can handle small volumes of milk if given accidentally, but it’s likely to cause them stomach upset.

Water is the best liquid to offer your backyard birds for hydration.

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What not to feed wild birds - 15 Worst foods for birds

10. Honey

Honey might seem like a natural treat that birds would enjoy, but sadly it’s not.

The reasoning behind avoiding honey in your feeder is that it’s known to contain nasties such as E.coli, listeria, botulism, fungus, and mold.

I think you’ll agree that those things would be pretty bad for a bird to eat.

So if you see any recipes for hummingbird nectar, oriole nectar, or suet cake containing honey, avoid it like the plague.

11. Dried Beans

I’m not trying to be dramatic, but never offer wild birds raw dried beans.

The toxin hemagglutinin is found in dried beans and is fatal to birds.

So don’t use dried beans to bulk out your bird feeder.

Still want to offer beans in your feeder?

The solution is to make sure you cook them first. Cooked beans can be a real treat for birds.

Cooked beans that go down well are kidney, pinto, and haricot.

12. Mushrooms

Step away from the mushrooms before offering them at your bird feeders. Mushrooms can cause serious health issues for birds.

Mushrooms are fungi that contain various toxins. Some are just downright poisonous to eat.

Although there are some mushrooms that are edible. The cooking process usually kills off any toxins. But the problem is there may be some toxins still present.

Toxins from mushrooms can cause liver failure in birds.

It’s not worth putting your backyard birds’ health at risk.

13. Garlic

Garlic is not a safe food to feed birds.

Just like onions, it’s all about the substances it contains.

So what is it that makes garlic so bad for birds?

Well, garlic contains allicin. And although it is safe in small amounts, when birds eat too much it causes health issues such as anemia.

The question is always, how much is too much?

If you don’t know then don’t take the risk and just avoid it altogether.

14. Junk Food

You may be thinking that giving your backyard birds a little junk food is a great way to get some bad fat into their diet?

But stop right there.

Foods such as chips, cookies, and crackers are terrible food choices for birds.

Not only are they full of unhealthy trans fats but they are also crammed full of sugar and salt.

Remember: birds are not humans.

They should be eating food that is nutritionally good for them, not filling up on junk.

Helping birds to eat a poor diet is a surefire way to make the birds in your area unhealthy and impact their chances of survival.

15. Raw Meat

Yes, there are carnivorous birds you can attract to your backyard with meat.

But putting out raw meat to attract birds such as owls is likely to backfire. You’re more likely to cause a rat or mouse infestation instead.

Raw meat is also known to spoil quickly. This attracts disease-carrying flies at high risk of passing on harmful bacteria to birds landing at your feeders.

Final thoughts

So let’s wrap this up.

Your question was ‘what not to feed wild birds’ and now you have 15 answers.

You’ll notice that some of the foods on the list such as bread, salt, and milk won’t immediately harm birds. But I always say to avoid them as they are nutritionally poor for birds, which ultimately does cause harm.

Whereas, other foods such as fruit pips, mushrooms, onions, and chocolate contain ingredients that, even in small amounts, can be fatal to wild birds.

Whats’ the bottom line?

I’d say keep this list safe and don’t offer any of these 15 ‘worst’ foods at your feeders.

If you’d like to read more head over to my guide about what you can feed birds from your kitchen.

Let me know in the comments which food on the list you found most surprising.

30 thoughts on “What Not To Feed Wild Birds – 15 Worst Foods”

    • Hi Cindy, Steele-cut oats are absolutely fine for wild birds and squirrels to eat. The only type of oats I’d recommend you avoid is the quick oats which are heavily processed and remove a lot of the nutrients and fiber from the oats. Too much overly processed foods can create nutritional deficiencies for animals.

      Reply
    • Hi Patty, if it’s homemade bread you can offer the wheat bread as a very occasional treat (once a month or so). But I’d recommend you don’t offer the bread if you’re already offering seed. It’s best to stick as close to a bird’s natural diet as possible for health reasons. Too much bread can cause nutritional deficits making birds vulnerable to disease, predators, and physical deformities such as Angel Wing.

      Reply
    • Hi Jean,
      You can feed the wild birds swede. However don’t put out more than they can eat in one day, otherwise, you may attract other larger wildlife to your yard, which can become a nuisance.

      Reply
  1. Good list! Turkey fat surprised me (I don’t eat it and didn’t know it remained oily).
    We have some frozen edamame in pods and am wondering if they’re okay to feed if cooked. If yes, I assume it’s best to shell them??

    Reply
    • Hi Toni,
      Birds can eat peanut butter, however, homemade or specialist bird butter is best (this is a good option). Store-bought peanut butter isn’t great for birds as it may have oils, salt, sugar, or additives which are harmful to wild birds. Fresh peanuts are a much better option for wild birds to eat.

      Reply
      • I have some black and kidney beans that were locally grown. If I cook the black beans can they go into a homemade suet mixture?

        Reply
        • Hi Theresa,
          Beans are great for birds, but make sure they are cooked through before offering them. Uncooked red kidney beans contain the most hemagglutinin toxin so contain the greatest risk if not cooked thoroughly. Also, monitor your suet closely for mold as adding fresh foods such as beans can cause it to go ‘off’ quickly if the birds are taking more than a few days to eat what you’ve offered.

          Reply
    • Hi there,
      Yes, some cereals are safe for birds to eat. It’s best to go with plain cereals such as bran or oats as these are generally free from additives or artificial sweeteners that are bad for wild birds. Grape nuts are reasonably safe as an occasional treat. Don’t offer the birds large amounts of grape nuts daily, a small amount every once in a while is ok. You can check out more foods that you can feed birds from your kitchen by following the link.

      Reply
  2. You should also mention MOLDY bread is NOT good food for birds! I had a neighbor who always threw out her bread when it got moldy for the birds to eat!!

    And peanut butter has WAY too much salt

    Reply
    • Hi Joan,
      Your waterfowl seed is likely to be safe enough for your birds to eat. Usually, these will be made up of grains and some sort of saturated fats which is healthy for birds. Although, songbirds can be quite fussy about what they eat and don’t really like filler seeds such as millet. You may find that larger birds such as pigeons or magpies will eat it instead.

      Reply
    • Hi Kitty,
      You shouldn’t feed birds any spoiled birdseed, it’s likely to be growing mold or bacteria which can be harmful to the birds’ health. I recommend storing your seed in an airtight food container (like this) to ensure that it doesn’t spoil easily.

      Reply
  3. Hi and great information you offered. Thank you! I was wondering about bread though. I understand your once and a while option but is it ok to mix bread crumbs with the seeds? I put out smaller seeds for the little ones with very fine bread crumbs ( leftover bread put through a blender) also put some in the fruit and nuts bird seed I get for the doves and bigger birds. And they love cornbread crumbs!
    Is all this ok?

    Reply
    • Hi Donna,
      Yes, giving birds a small amount of bread won’t cause significant harm especially if you’re mixing it with other foods full of nutrients. The danger with bread alone is it fills them up with basically no nutritional value which can cause health issues. I hope that helps.

      Reply
  4. Thank you! There is a bird outside the sitting out on our bench…he did not fly away …soo I was concerned about what to do or what to give it

    Reply
    • Hi Cat,
      I would check the ingredients before feeding the wild birds the parakeet seed. You can use it if the ingredients are purely seed or grain-based, similar to commercial wild bird seed. Be mindful that some parakeet food contains garlic which is not suitable for wild birds to consume. Also, be aware of ingredients such as processed raisins or fried banana chips, as these are not recommended for wild birds.

      Reply

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