Most people can agree that having wildlife in the backyard is enjoyable. Whether there are gorgeous birds perching on your porch or you manage to catch a glimpse of deer passing through the yard every now and then, there are many ways that you can attract wildlife to your property.
However, there are plenty of ways that you can inadvertently harm the animals you are bringing in. To make sure that you are keeping your backyard birds happy and healthy, you should have a good sense of what you can and cannot feed them.
What Do Birds Eat?
Of course, before you can have a good understanding of what not to feed wild birds, you need to know what type of food birds typically eat. With as many different species of birds as there are in the world, the truth is that birds, as a whole, will eat pretty much anything.
There are scavenger birds that feed on corpses, such as vultures. There are carnivorous birds, such as owls, falcons, and hawks that hunt mice, lizards, rabbits, and small mammals. There are birds that feed solely on fruits and vegetables, just as there are birds that feast on seeds, plants, and nuts. There are birds that eat grains, birds that eat aquatic animals, and birds that will even eat eggs.
While there are countless different birds out in the world, chances are that you will have fairly standard birds living in your backyard, typically songbirds. Songbirds thrive on insects during the spring and summer and during the winter and autumn, they eat fruits and seeds when they cannot find insects.
Knowing the Birds You Have in Your Backyard
To determine the usual dietary habits of the birds on your property, you have to first consider which birds you have in your property. There are a fair few ways to determine what birds you have, assuming you are not regularly watching birds pass by. The best place to start is going to be to look at what birds are local to your area.
Once you know what birds are local to you, you will want to start keeping an eye out for them. After all, when you know what type of bird you are looking for, you will be able to spot them more easily.
Even if some birds are local to your area, it doesn’t mean that they have made a home in your trees, so keeping an eye out to learn which species live in your backyard will help you know what you can and can’t feed them.
Understanding a Bird’s Digestive System
Now that you have a good sense of the types of birds that you will be feeding, the next thing you will want to do is learn about how a bird’s digestive system works.
When you know about how birds digest their food and how delicate their bodies are, you will begin to understand which foods are going to be good for your backyard birds and which should be avoided at all costs.
Birds, naturally, need to remain very light to fly. This means that they metabolize their food very quickly and need to eat often to remain nourished. This also means that their guts are very sensitive to foods, so foods that would not affect most people or even animals can cause quite a bit of distress for birds. This is part of the reason why it is so important for you to know what not to feed birds.
Fatal Food for Birds
There are some foods that can cause discomfort and indigestion. There are some foods that can quickly lead to problems if it is ingested more than a few times. However, there are foods that can be outright fatal to most wild birds. Desiccated coconut that has not been thoroughly soaked is often fatal to wild birds, and because it is hard to tell how long it should soak to be safe for birds, it should be avoided altogether.
Milk should also be avoided. Birds have not evolved to digest milk and handle the gasses produced because of that indigestion. Milk can lead to an upset stomach, and in some cases, outright death. Avocado is also a highly risky food, as it contains persin. Persin can kill birds and cause long-term lung and heart problems. Some birds are capable of digesting it, but it is hard to know if your backyard birds can, so it is best to avoid it.
Other deadly foods include chocolate, fruit pits, dried beans, honey, mushrooms, and any human junk food. These foods all have compounds in them that can cause serious health problems or death in wild birds.
Food You Should Avoid Feeding Birds
This next list of food contains foods that are still bad for birds and can lead to health conditions ranging from ulcers to anemia, though they will not kill your wild birds immediately. They should still avoid being left out for your birds to enjoy.
Foods that are heavy in fats should be avoided. While birds do need fat to survive, most of the fats that human foods contain are not the type of fat that birds need. The same concept applies to foods high in salt, as birds are very sensitive to salt content and most human food contains far too much salt for birds. Garlic and onion should be avoided, as they contain compounds that can cause ulcers and anemia.
You should also avoid feeding your birds bread. While bread is a common thing to feed to birds, just about all commercially produced breads provide no nutritional value to birds. Bread fills a bird’s stomach and offers no nutrients, meaning that the bird won’t seek out something they could benefit from instead.
What Should You Feed Your Birds Instead?
If you want to feed the wild birds in your yard, there are quite a few options you can consider. Assuming that the wild birds near you are your common songbird, you can provide foods that offer the same nutritional content that their insect-and-seed-based diet would. This type of diet focuses on protein, certain types of fat, and some types of vitamins.
You will want to make sure that you have a healthy amount of seeds, as this will serve as the base of your wild bird food. Common seeds to use include hulled sunflower seeds (unsalted, unflavored), black-oil sunflower seeds (also unsalted and unflavored), cracked corn, and millet. Oats can also be used if the birds in your yard would prefer it.
You will also want to include peanuts, fruits with problematic pits removed, mealworms, suet, sugar water, nyjer (commonly referred to as “thistle” seeds despite not being related to North American thistle), safflower, and milo. These are all nutrient-rich foods that your backyard birds can benefit from and will come back for each and every year.
When it comes to feeding the birds in your backyard, there are a few different things to consider. You will want to make sure that you are avoiding foods that people would feed their birds that would cause them harm, especially bread, honey, dried beans, and similar foods.
Instead, you should consider feeding your birds foods that they will be able to fully use the nutrients of, such as seeds, grains, mealworms, and fruits.