Can I Feed Backyard Birds Kitchen Scraps And Grains?

Crunched walnuts, rice, and lentils that have been stored in a pantry for some time are prime food for backyard birds.

Offering birds alternatives to traditional backyard bird food can help you save money on birdseed and offer birds food of nutritional value during times of scarcity. This article will show you the basics of feeding backyard birds, kitchen scraps, and pantry grains. 

Backyard birds can eat kitchen scraps and pantry grains that otherwise would be thrown away. Food from the pantry, such as old beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, rice, wheat, and other grains, can be crushed and fed to wild birds.

Birds more likely to eat kitchen scraps and pantry grains 

To understand which backyard birds are more likely to eat kitchen scraps and crushed pantry grains, we need to understand what type of food backyard birds eat. 

Birds that visit backyard feeders are mostly grain and seed eaters, followed by diet generalists. Only a few backyard birds eat fruit, and only hummingbirds, and to a lesser extent orioles, drink nectar. 

Grain eaters include goldfinches, finches, buntings, grosbeaks, and native sparrows. These birds have specific food preferences and are less likely to try unfamiliar foods.

On the other hand, pigeons, grackles, crows, starling, blue jays, house sparrows, and quails have more generalist diets and eat a wider variety of food types. These birds’ digestive systems are adapted to handle various foods and are more likely to take kitchen scraps and crushed grains and nuts. 

What makes feeding wild birds kitchen foods a good idea?

Feeding kitchen scraps and pantry grains to birds is a way to save on birdseed by using leftover food that would otherwise go to waste. Using scraps for bird food helps keep waste down and at the same time provides birds with a wide variety of food, keeping them coming back to your yard. 

Flocking birds often show up in large numbers and consume large amounts of food. If you enjoy having lots of birds in your yard, you can feed pigeons, doves, quails, grackles, starlings, crows, house sparrows, and other flocking birds, pantry grains, and kitchen leftovers keeping your more expensive food for birds with a more selective diet.  

Preparing to offer birds alternative kitchen foods

Knowing the types of birds that visit your feeders will help plan your alternative bird feeding strategy. If you only get selective eaters and not generalist birds, kitchen scraps and crushed grains will likely go unconsumed. On the other hand, if you have common flocking birds, they are likely to consume the food you offer. 

If you would like to start feeding birds kitchen food, it is recommended to install a platform feeder, preferable on or close to the ground where most diet-generalist birds feed.

Offering kitchen scraps to backyard birds take preparation and persistence. Depending on the type of birds that visit your yard, putting kitchen food out may go ignored for the first few days and even weeks; collect and discard this food at the end of each day. After one or two individuals try the new food, other birds tend to follow suit.  

Flocking birds such as common grackles often show up in large numbers and have a generalist diet. Grackles readily take kitchen scraps and pantry grains. Photo: Stephen Little/Flickr/CC by 2.0

Types of kitchen scraps that can be safely offered to birds

As a general rule, any natural and unprocessed human food is good for wild birds. Processed foods must be plain, unsalted, and free from fats and oils that can be unsafe to wild birds.  

The following is a list of pantry grains and kitchen scraps that can be safely fed to backyard birds:

Unprocessed food for backyard birds

  • All types of grains: This includes beans, lentils, corn, wheat, rice, and any other kind of grains in its natural state. Often, these grains sit in the pantry for years and may not be suitable for human consumption. If dry and well preserved, grains are an ideal kitchen food that can be offered to backyard birds. Depending on the grain’s size, you may need to crush grains into small pieces that birds can handle. Not only diet generalists but also selective eaters visiting feeders consume crushed grains.
  • All types of nuts: Nuts are an excellent food for many birds. Nuts get old or stale after some time of not being consumed. Old or stale peanuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, and even raisins need to be crushed into smaller pieces and offered to birds. Most birds take nuts of small size. All regular grain-eaters love nuts. Woodpeckers, titmice, chickadee, cardinals, and blue jays go crazy about nuts. Most nuts are rich in oil content and carbohydrates and are highly nutritious to birds.

    Although birds are pretty good at tasting and passing on food that is not in prime conditions, moldy grains and nuts must not be offered to birds. Also, avoid feeding bird nuts coated with sugar, mixed with salt, or artificial flavors that can harm birds. 
  • Fruit: Many birds love fruit. Fruit is among the food that is the most wasted in households. Bruised apples and bananas, slightly old berries, and other fruit can easily be chopped into small pieces and offered to birds. Cut the fruit’s bruised area, impale it on the feeder, cut it into pieces, and offer it on a plant saucer. Fruit is not as nutritious as grains and nuts but has essential sugar and plenty of carbohydrates, which constitute quick energy for birds.
  • Vegetables: Birds eat buds and other vegetables in limited amounts. Vegetables such as lettuce and spinach are popular foods for cage birds, but I doubt backyards birds would take them if offered. A few sparrows and finches may take a bite, but veggies will dry before they are consumed. Backyard birds came to feeders to get the nutritious food they cannot easily find in the wild. Green vegetables have many substitutes in the wild and may not be appealing to birds on feeders. Some people offer peas, finely chopped carrots, boiled potatoes, and other veggies. These types of veggies are likely to be taken by flocking birds.
  • Hard-boiled eggs: Hard-boiled eggs are a popular food for cagebirds such as canaries and other finches. Hard-boiled eggs are a great source of proteins. While they can be offered to wild birds, it would take some time for them to figure out that it is edible when presented to them. 
  • Animal Fat is commonly fed to backyard birds, particularly in the winter when insects and other sources of proteins are scarce. Backyard birds would consume any type of fat, but beef fat is the recommended and most common animal fat type offered to birds. Ideally, fat needs to be rendered before offering it to birds. Render fat by heating it at a low temperature until it melts, all proteins solidify, and any water is evaporated. While still liquid, separate or filter the fats from the solids. As the fat cools, you’re left with clean, pure rendered fat.
  • A word of caution: While old and stale nuts are safe and nutritious to birds, nuts that are moist and stored for some time can develop dangerous fungus and mold potentially harmful to birds. Growing mold on birdseed or kitchen grains can cause aspergillosis, a deadly disease that affects the bird’s respiratory system.

Processed pantry grains and kitchen scraps for birds

  • Bread and other baked goods: It is fine to feed birds stale bread and other baked goods. Whole wheat bread is more nutritious and contains more fiber than white bread. Other baked goods, including plain crackers, cookies, and similar baked leftovers, appeal to birds. 

    Flocking birds are used to consume foods in the wild that are not necessarily in prime conditions. Bird enthusiasts share that if the bread has only mold spots, they remove them and feed the rest to wild birds. However, bird experts suggest avoiding moldy baked goods altogether, which makes good sense. 

    Generally, avoid baked goods that are sugar-coated, salty, flavored, and greasy or oily. Birds generally cannot handle food with a high content of salt and sugar. Fats and oils can get on birds’ feathers staining and making feathers less functional. 

When feeding baked goods, try to limit them to the least processed types. Birds may be unable to discern which is healthy or unhealthy food.

  • Cheese: is a nutritious addition to the several kitchen foods that can be offered to birds. Small pieces of stale but not moldy or rancid cheese are safe to offer to birds.
  • Rice: Birds readily take rice as grains or cooked. Uncooked rice grains have the terrible reputation of swelling in the bird’s stomach, killing them; this is not true. Rice is just another type of grain. Rice has a low nutritional value, but it is a good source of carbohydrates also needed in wild birds’ diet.
  • Cooked pasta: As with rice, cooked pasta is a source of carbohydrates for birds. Plain cooked pasta is readily taken by flocking birds with generalist diets, and it is safe to offer it to birds. Offer pasta in small amounts or according to the amount birds that are likely to eat it in your yard. Pasta dries and hardens rather quickly, becoming unappealing to birds.
  • Cereal: Packaged cereal is made of wheat and other grains. While heavily processed in some cases, the nutritional value of cereal is beneficial to birds. Offer plain cereal and avoid flavored and sugar-coated types that can be harmful to your feathered friends.
  • Dog and cat food: is surprisingly good food for birds. Dog and cat food is relatively rich in protein and other essential nutrients and constitutes a suitable food for birds. Soak pet food in water to soften it before offering it to birds. Dog food is often fed to baby birds that need a diet rich in protein.
Partly spoiled fruit can be cleaned up and offered to backyard birds.

How to Feed Scraps to Birds

Kitchen scraps are commonly offered to birds on tray or platform feeders. Because diet generalists and flocking birds typically feed on the ground, the platform feeder should be placed on or near the ground. Bear in mind that kitchen scraps can be greasy or oily, leaving unsightly stains. You can use a separate platform feeder just for kitchen scraps and another one for other food types. Animal fat mixed with seeds and nuts can be offered in suet cages. 

The nutritional value of kitchen scraps and pantry grains

Nutritionally, kitchen scraps and pantry grains are a mixed package. Unprocessed foods listed above preserves their nutritional value, while processed foods are not regarded as a healthy source of nutrients. 

An entirely scrap-based diet would be less advisable in general. Birds with more generalist diets eat all types of food daily and welcome kitchen scraps and pantry grains. 

Birdseed mixes do not always provide a sufficient variety of proteins, fats, or carbohydrates when natural food is scarce in the winter months. A small number of alternative foods during times of scarcity can help birds.​

Add regular scraps to your backyard bird food in limited quantities, but do not substitute traditional birdseed for kitchen scraps. 

Potential issues

Feeding bird kitchen grains and scraps is economical and a fun way to provide birds with various foods; however, some issues may arise.

The presence of food scraps in your backyard may attract pests like mice, rats, and raccoons. If you want to minimize pests, use hanging feeders or serve scraps in amounts that birds consume by the end of the day. 

Best time to offer backyard birds kitchen scraps and pantry grains

Food for wild birds is abundant during the summer months, and birds are not eager to visit bird feeders. Fruit and insects become scarce during the coldest months of mid-winter and early spring, which constitute the prime period to offer birds kitchen scraps and pantry grains. 

Conclusions:

Backyard birds, particularly diet generalists, can eat various foods other than the traditional food offered to them in feeders. There are many types of kitchen scraps and pantry grains that can be safely fed to wild birds. Some of these food types may not be of the highest quality but offer a supplement when natural food is scarce. By providing a variety of scraps at your feeders, you’ll reduce kitchen waste, help birds, and enjoy watching them in the comfort of your backyard. 


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