7 Common Food Items Not Good for Backyard Birds


Image by Nancy Buron from Pixabay

We keep our backyard birds supplied with sunflower seed and suet throughout the cold winter months. Recently my husband started to toss old bread to the birds but I was concerned that this might not be helping our little friends.

As it turns out I was right. According to avian experts, throwing bread to the birds on a regular basis can negatively impact their health.



Bread is one of the biggest no-no’s when it comes to feeding backyard birds said Don Torino, president of the Bergen County Audubon Society, NJ.

“Just because they eat bread, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them,” Torino said. “The problem is they fill up on bread and get really weak because it has no nutritional value for them.”

When eaten excessively, bread will cause health problems for birds, including malnutrition and obesity. This is particularly prominent among young waterfowl in urban and suburban areas where ducklings and goslings may be fed large amounts of bread. As a result, these young birds fail to get proper nutrients for healthy growth and can develop deformed wings—known as Angel Wing. Feeding bread to waterfowl is illegal in many states for the protection of the birds.

Salt or Salty food like chips or crackers

According to the nonprofit Nature Forever birds differ greatly in their ability to cope with salty food and water. For example, seabirds are able to eat marine animals and drink seawater without a problem, while many songbirds can die if they take in large quantities of salt. Most backyard birds cannot cope with too much salt intake so it’s important not to offer them salty food.

“Salted peanuts are not a good choice for backyard birds,” Torino said. “People should choose unsalted or roasted peanuts instead. The same goes for other types of nuts.”

Moldy or stale food

While it’s true many molds are harmless, some can cause respiratory infections in birds. For this reason, avian experts recommend not feeding moldy or stale foods to backyard birds. It’s also important to remove any stale or moldy seed or other food from feeders. Stale food provides a breeding ground for salmonella bacteria, which can cause food poisoning and even death.

Torino said it’s important to keep bird feeders clean and he recommends periodically washing them with a 10 percent bleach solution. In addition, dropped seed should be raked up from under the feeders.

“It’s also a good idea to move the feeders around so all the droppings aren’t collecting in one place,” Torino said. “That helps to prevent avian diseases being passed around from one bird to another.”

Raw Meat

Many birds are carnivorous, but avoid offering raw processed meat in any form, including ground meats or meat scraps. Meat can spoil quickly and will grow dangerous bacteria that can kill birds.  Instead, offer fatty protein such as suet to give birds a nutritious and safe option.

My friend Cathie—a vegetarian—treats her backyard birds to homemade vegan suet. She uses vegetable shortening and peanut butter instead of lard or beef fat and throws in cornmeal, nuts, dried fruits and anything else she thinks the birds would enjoy.


Backyard birds enjoy snacking on vegan suet/Photo courtesy: Cathie Giglio

Torino said that there are different grades of store-bought suet and he recommends steering clear of those that are packed with corn.

“The corn is just taking up space in the suet and the birds won’t eat it,” Torino said. “Instead choose suet with nuts and fruit.”

Cake, cookies and other dessert foods

You might not like to dump leftover cookies, donuts or cakes into the trash when the backyard birds would really enjoy them. However, these foods are full of processed ingredients and are not healthy for birds.  According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife bakery goods can spoil, mold and draw rodents to the feeder and are not healthy for our native birds.


While it’s a myth that rice will expand and explode in a bird’s stomach, this is still not a good source of food for birds. Just as with bread, birds will fill up on rice, which does not have the nutrition they need to stay healthy.


Experts at the Humane Society of the United States caution against feeding foods that contain chocolate to birds. Chocolate contains theobromine and is toxic to birds just as it is to dogs and cats.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers a tip sheet on Winter Bird Feeding.