What Not to feed wild Birds – Home & Roost

What Not to feed wild Birds

What Not to feed wild Birds

Clare Stone |

We wrote a couple of weeks ago about what to feed wild birds to attract them to your garden. There are plenty of things you can feed wild birds. The more variety you can offer the more different species of birds you will attract. But there are some foods which should stay off the bird table. this week we look at what not to feed wild birds.

And since humans have made it more difficult for birds to find their natural food we help to redress the balance when we provide extra food for them.

But are there certain foods that you should avoid feeding wild birds? Are some things bad or dangerous for them?

In this article we’ll go through a list of some of the main foods you should avoid feeding to wild birds.

What Not to Feed Wild Birds

Cheap Bird Food

Cheap bird food is cheap because it’s bulked out with seed husks and other non-nutritious things. Some brands even contain broken up dog and cat biscuits. The problem with feeding birds food with a low nutritional value is that they will eat it, and fill up on it, but they’re not getting the food energy they need. 

You only have to watch the birds in your garden to get an idea of how much energy they use. So stick to high-quality, high-energy bird food.

The Wrong Fats

Birds love fat balls and suet products and it can be easy and fun to make your own.

But if you are going to do this, be sure to use pure lard or suet.

Don’t be tempted to use old cooking fat from a joint or a chip pan. The process of the fat heating and cooling causes a chemical reaction which makes it toxic to birds. In the same way polyunsaturated margarines and spreads are not good for birds.

So for DIY fat balls stick to lard or suet. Or buy ready made ones.

what not to feed wld birds


Birds will eat salty foods but anything more than a tiny amount of salt can be toxic for them. 

So never feed salted nuts or crisps. 

Raw bacon fat is loved by birds and good for them, so long as it is unsmoked and unsalted.

Also be careful of cheese. A little grated cheese is a good addition to the bird table. But stick to mild cheddar. Other cheeses, like Feta or Parmesan, can have quite a high salt content.

And when you are offering water in the winter, never use salt to stop it freezing. Instead pour a little boiling water into the dish from time to time.

Bread and Cake

A little bit of bread won't do birds any harm, and they will enjoy it. But just like cheap bird food, it doesn’t offer much nutritional value either. So best to keep bread as an occasional treat.

If you are going to feed bread to the birds be sure it’s not mouldy  - though stale is fine. And always soak the bread first so it’s soft enough for them.

Cake, like bread, is filling and low nutrition, and also pretty sugary. So feeding cake is best avoided for most of the time.

The only exception to this would be a fruit cake, like a Christmas cake, which has plenty of nutrition in it. If like us you end up throwing half a Christmas cake away each year, your garden birds could be very grateful for it. Not all in one go though!


Like many creatures birds are lactose intolerant.  

Birds don’t feed their young milk in the same way that many mammals do. The “pigeon’s milk” that you may have read about isn’t really milk, it’s just partially digested food. So birds have no mechanism for digesting milk. They may try to drink milk but it will make them ill and upset their stomachs.

Cream, on the other hand, is full of good fats and very little lactose. So most birds are fine with cream.  Which is why blue tits used to be so keen on pecking through the foil on top of milk bottles, back in the days before we humans all moved to skimmed milk.

Other Foods to Avoid.

If, for some strange reason, you have ever thought of giving an avocado to your garden birds, please don’t, It’s toxic for them.

Likewise chocolate. The caffeine and other ingredients in chocolate are reported to be very bad for birds. Though they love it and will snaffle it up given the chance.

Whilst fresh coconut makes a welcome addition to the bird table, desiccated coconut can be poisonous.

Anyone who has ever had to wash up a porridge pan will tell you that cooked oats, once cooled, turn to concrete. This has been known to set round birds beaks, making it impossible for them to eat. Raw pinhead oats are very good for many species. But please don’t put out cooked oats.

Broken dog and cat biscuits and whole peanuts can choke baby birds. So these are best avoided, especially in the breeding season.

Good Feeding Habits

When you feed the birds you create a very different environment to their natural feeding places. So it’s important that you practice good feeding habits.

  • Feed little and often, so food isn’t left lying around.
  • Clear away any mouldy or soggy food. This could breed bacteria and cause illness.
  • Clean bird feeders regularly. Lots of birds feeding in the same place increases the risk of spreading diseases.
  • Change water and clean water dishes and bird baths regularly. Birds will tend to poop in their water quite often. Not nice, so give the dishes a regular clean.

Conclusion: Offer Garden Birds the Right Foods

Feeding birds in your garden is fun and an excellent way to help support our native wildlife.

A varied diet is important. But there are certain foods you should avoid to be sure of a happy and healthy bird table.

In this article we’ve explained what not to feed wild birds and why. We hope you’ve found it useful.

For more information on our native wild birds visit:

The RSPB Website.

The British Trust of Ornithology.

And if you have any questions or suggestions we would love to hear them. Please leave us a comment below.