Bread is NOT Bird Food

Downy Woodpecker

Earlier this week I was researching some new bird gardening strategies and I was flipping through my stacks of bird gardening books and I noticed that the majority of these books spend most of their space talking about bird feeders and bird feeding “projects.”

While I am a huge proponent of any method that instills in children a sense of awe and wonder about nature, most of these projects involve feeding some type of bread product to your backyard birds: donuts, bagels, stale bread, etc.

The idea is to take a bagel, a donut, or other bread product and coat them with peanut butter and roll them in bird seed and then hang them about your garden for the birds to enjoy.

But these bread products are not a good choice for feeding birds, and may also be quite harmful.

Bread is not Good for Birds

Imagine if you took your small children to McDonald’s every day. They may get filled up with that food, but do you really think that’s providing all the nutrition your children need?

It’s the same thing with birds. Bread is junk food for birds, providing very little nutritional value and very little in the way of energy to survive the winter in our wildlife gardens.

At this time of year birds need the right balance of lipids and fats to supply their energy needs. And they do not receive this from bread.

Bread can be Dangerous to Birds

Bread has a propensity to mold, which is often why we think of feeding it to the birds in the first place. We think “I don’t want to waste this moldy bread, so I’ll just put it out for the birds.”

Moldy bread can poison and kill birds, and salmonella is a big concern, too. Bread products mold very quickly when exposed to moisture, which is exactly what we’re doing when we hang our bread product bird “treats” in our gardens.

Diseases from moldy bread can cause feather malformations, making the birds unable to fly. Other diseases can also cause respiratory illness and even death.

A Better Idea

You can have the same enjoyable experience with your children and create treats for the birds in your wildlife garden by replacing those bread products with pine cones. You’d still dip them in peanut butter and roll them in quality bird seeds, but you are not creating a health hazard for your avian friends.

The idea of a wildlife garden for the birds is to help them, not cause them any harm. So please don’t feed your birds bread.

Even Better

While I have nothing against bird feeders, the way I see it they are more for me to be able to get a closer look at my winged bird visitors.

You can expand the value of your wildlife garden to birds by planting a wide variety of native plants that will provide for all of their needs.

Birds enjoy seeds, nuts, berries, and the insects that will be attracted to your native plants. It is these plants that provide all of the nutritional needs of the birds in your Ecosystem Garden.

When you go beyond the bird feeder and plan your wildlife garden to support birds, butterflies, pollinators and other wildlife through all of their life cycles and through every season of the year, you are really making a difference.

And that is exactly what Ecosystem Gardening does. You’ll be creating natural habitats in your garden so that you will attract more wildlife.

How are you giving back to wildlife in your garden?

Check out my new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week, teaching you to garden sustainably, conserve natural resources, and create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your garden.

© 2010 – 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of EcosystemGardening.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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Comments

  1. says

    I think I have a new mantra, “Get beyond birdfeeders.”

    Around here I so try and dissuade people from the things but have to admit that I do feed from a feeder when it snows–and the little suckers show up by my window during storms because they know it.

    LOL I figure if they cannot get food on the ground or off the plants I can help them out. Otherwise I’d rather see people planning and planting to support them instead.
    @ArkLady (Diana L Guerrero) recently posted..Ark Animal Tracks December 2010

    • Carole Brown says

      Diana, I love your new mantra! There’s so much we can do in our gardens to support wildlife by choosing plants that have berries, fruits, nuts, and seeds which will provide so much food for the birds and other wildlife. And I’ve spent many a winter day watching the birds at my feeders, too.

  2. says

    Great Post Carole!

    I’ve done the pine cones with peanut butter and black oiled sunflower seeds – the squirrels, woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees all love them. We have hundreds of pine cones here in the yard, so there’s plenty to go around!
    Kathy Green recently posted..Sometimes Plants get so Confused

  3. Mike Korner says

    This is interesting Carole. As a kid, we threw a lot of bread to the birds (OK, the squirrels got most of it). A few years ago I tossed some bread to the birds and they didn’t even eat it. I guess country birds are smarter than city birds :)

    Fast forward to today:
    - In the winter, I put out food (Cardinal mix, which looks so good I’m almost tempted to eat it) every week for the birds.
    - The rest of the year, I don’t put food out. I let nature take care of things. The birds seem content with the arrangement.

    p.s. The heated birdbath experiment is going great. We’ve been as low as 10 degrees and the birds still have water and they really seem to enjoy it. They don’t even seem to mind sharing with the 7 blue jays who stop by a couple times a day. Rumor has it that the birds are erecting a hot tub sign (though it certainly isn’t hot water).

    • Carole Brown says

      LOL, Mike your bird “spa” sounds like a lot of fun to watch. I use a heated dog water bowl with a brick in it. This allows the birds to drink but keeps them from freezing their feathers on really cold days. There’s always a line of Robins, Sparrows, Juncos, Mourning Doves and even Blue Jays waiting for their turn.

  4. says

    Years ago when I taught preschool I had a great little book with recipes for making birdfeeders, including the pinecone/peanut butter one. My 3 yr. old grandson recently made tiny little feeders by filling acorn shells with peanut butter.
    I have two feeders but they are more for my enjoyment than for the birds – I LOVE to watch them. Primarily the birds feed from the native plants in my garden.
    Ginny recently posted..Fertilizer Friday – feeding more than just the garden

    • Carole Brown says

      Ginny, those acorn feeders sound adorable! Your grandson sounds like my kind of kid. And kudos to you for planting so many natives in your garden!

  5. says

    We just finished making some 40 pine cone feeders at my son’s school — it was great fun for all the kids. I’ll probably post pictures soon, in fact — I’m just trying to capture a picture of one of the birds feasting on mine at home, first — those silly birds grab a seed and take off to the trees so darn fast!

    • Carole Brown says

      Meredith, good luck with that photo! I often set up a tripod with the camera prefocused on the spot, and then click every time a bird lands. And if I’m really lucky, I finally get the shot! Keeping my fingers crossed for you :) And I’m sure that the kids at your son’s school will have a wonderful time watching the birds that come to your feeders. Kudos to you for being so involved with getting those kids interested in nature!

  6. says

    Watching birds is such a relaxing and rewarding pastime, it is tempting to do whatever will draw them in, without regards for their health. Thanks for taking the initiative to explain the problems with using bread. It is amazing (and disappointing) how many different places I have seen it recommended when it is such a harmful practice.
    Stan Horst recently posted..Oxford Garden Side Table

    • Carole Brown says

      Welcome, Stan! You’re right about it being tempting, but there are so many other ways we can attract birds into our gardens. I saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings come in to a native Holly this week, and it was so exciting to watch them eat all of those berries.

      • says

        True. I really like the concept of gardening with native plants that are friendly to and provide food for our feathered friends. Of course, they could use a little extra help during the winter months, as long as what they’re getting is helpful. I’m really looking forward to your new book on “Ecosystem Gardening.”
        Stan Horst recently posted..Oxford Garden Siena Reclining Armchair

  7. Birdy Diamond says

    Was thinking of mixing birdseed & bacon fat for the birds this winter.

    Is this also a bad idea?

  8. says

    Thank you for a gr8 post. From my early childhod we were always taught to feed the birds everyday with bread on our back garden lawn. Little did we know then that it wasnt good for them and also that we were inviting cats to pounce onto the poor hungry birds. I hope all children are properly educated about the correct way for feeding birds now.

    I love ur blog… well done!
    Karen @ Pledging for Change recently posted..Comment on Sustainable Motoring with LowGas by Jason Reece

    • Carole Brown says

      Thanks, Karen. Education for everyone about the best way to do good for wildlife is critical.

  9. says

    How true! Thank you for writing this. Very well said. We must keep educating people about what is good for wildlife. I would like to slap a sticker reading “Feed a bird, plant a native tree” on every bag of bird seed. http://pollinatingbee.blogspot.com/2010/12/feed-birds.html
    When everything is considered, native plants are more important to birds than bird seed in feeders as Doug Tallamy explains so eloquently. I have nothing against them, either. Although sometimes I wonder: What do the farmers who grow bird seed do? Keep the birds away from their crops? Are we reducing bird habitat by growing bird seed so that we can enjoy birds on our own backyards? I wish I knew.
    Beatriz Moisset recently posted..My bees and climate change

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 20. Bread is NOT Bird Food–Earlier this week I was researching some new bird gardening strategies and I was flipping through my stacks of bird gardening books and I noticed that the majority of these books spend most of their space talking about bird feeders and bird feeding “projects.” While I am a huge proponent of any method that instills in children a sense of awe and wonder about nature, most of these projects involve feeding some type of bread product to your backyard birds: donuts, bagels, stale bread, etc… ~Carole Sevilla Brown [...]

  2. […] Can I put bread out for the birds to eat during the snow? Imagine if you took your small children to McDonald’s every day. They may get filled up with that food, but do you really think that’s providing all the nutrition your children need? It’s the same thing with birds. Bread is junk food for birds, providing very little nutritional value and very little in the way of energy to survive the winter in our wildlife gardens. […]

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