Bird Watcher's General Store

Cape Codder Article - 10/31/03 - Is Bread Good for Birds


Dear Bird Folks:

When I was young, before feeding birds became popular, my grandmother would put out bread and other table scraps on a tray to feed the birds during the winter. Her birds seem to love it. Yet, I don't see this done much anymore. Is bread safe or are we better off only using birdseed.

-Gretchen, Mansfield

Great Gretchen, Just great.

The slipping economy isn't bad enough, now we have you suggesting that people quit buying birdseed and start feeding birds table scraps. Swell. You can be the one to tell my ten year old son, that twenty years from now, when he finally passes the MCAS and is allowed to go to college, there won't be any money because people have started feeding birds scraps instead buying birdseed. Thank you very much. I hope you're happy.

Actually, I'm glad to answer your question. I too have fond memories of my own grandmother putting out leftovers for birds. She had this big tray feeder on top of a pole in her yard. I would sit for hours watching the birds come from all directions on a snowy winter's day. However, I must warn you, that this will be one of those answers that will contradict itself so often that even if you manage to read the whole answer, you are probably going to know less then before you started. You know, like most weeks.

There is nothing wrong with putting a little bread out for the birds once in a while. It's a great way to use up old bread and to save a few bucks on birdseed. (Grrrrr!!!) The key phrase here is "once in a while". Many birds love white bread, but as our pal Dr. Atkins will tell you, white bread isn't all that good for us or them. White bread is mostly empty calories. It is just like my mother would always say when we went out for dinner, "If you fill up on bread, you won't eat your dinner". That was usually followed by "get your elbows off the table, quit kicking your sister and put that gum back under the chair where you found it". Elbows and gum aren't usually big issues for birds, but filling up on bad food can be.

Birds are totally capable of finding themselves a balanced diet. But when the weather is bad, the days are short and foraging time is limited, a belly full of bread might not give the birds the energy they need to make it through a frigid night. Birdseed on the other hand is full of the fat and protein that birds find in nature. So yes, many birds eat bread, but no, too much is not a good thing. However, a few broken up slices once in a while are fine.

Better alternatives, from the human pile of table scraps, are doughnuts. A plain donut is actually better for the birds than it is for us. All the extra fat that makes us look like .....ah.... a bunch of fat donut eaters, is good for the birds. Remember, plain donuts are fine, sugar donuts should be avoided as they will rot the bird's teeth. Another a good alternative is pie crust. Chunks of cooked eggs seem to be popular also. Although you would think that eating eggs would go against some kind of unwritten code birds have.

The biggest problem with feeding birds bread, eggs, pie etc., is spoilage. Even though birdseed can become dangerously moldy if not kept dry, seed will hold up much better outside than a plate full of scrambled eggs. None of the alternative foods do well during warm weather or when it rains. Your best time to try them is on a cold, dry, winter's day.

It is important to remember that if you feed birds any left over people food, you should only put out small amounts, once in a while. Any food, more than a few days old, should be cleaned up. Or soon your yard will look like the dumpster behind the high school. And instead of cute birds you will end up feeding starlings, gulls, and at high tide, barracuda.

Artwork by Catherine Clark




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