Is bread really all that bad for the birds?

Why Most Bread Is Bad

Most typical sliced bread or sandwich bread is a poor food choice for birds. This bread is heavily processed and contains chemicals and preservatives that are not suitable for wild birds. Bread contains very little protein, which birds need to develop muscles and feathers, and it does not contain the fat birds need for energy. Instead, bread is primarily a carbohydrate that, while it will fill a bird’s stomach and alleviate hunger, does not provide much nutrition. The same is true for similar bread-like products such as buns, bagels, crackers, chips, pretzels, cookies, cereal, and donuts.

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 tremendous amounts of bread. As these young birds fail to get the proper nutrients for healthy growth, they can develop deformed wings and legs, aggressive temperaments, poor circulation, and many other difficulties.

What food is good for birds?

The good news is we don’t have to stop feeding the birds in our backyards, we just need to feed them the right food—food that maximizes the nutrition they require to survive and thrive.

See ‘Quality Bird Seed and Clean Feeders Matter‘ for more information about healthy food you can provide for wild birds.

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Rice

Rice, both cooked and uncooked, isn’t a bad choice. It provides a good source of energy but is quite low in nutritional value. Feeding birds with large quantities of rice can result in deficiencies in other nutrients. It’s also important to only give plain rice – never seasoned or fried rice.

Giving lots of uncooked rice can give ducks a sore stomach because it reacts with water in their gut. Uncooked rice is perfectly safe in small doses though – in spite of what urban myths might tell you.

Birds can have a little rice – as a treat.
Birds can have a little rice – as a treat.

Is It Ever Okay to Feed Bread to Birds?

To be brief: no. While the practice may seem benign, it doesn’t just harm individual birds or your local flock but feeding birds is also bad for the environment. Birds who are fed bread could become dependent upon human food, or could become aggressive if they lose their fear of humans.

Birds can be trusted to find their own food, and simply don’t require human food as a caloric supplement. While bird feeders with proper food only make a neutral impact, feeding bread to birds is actively harmful.

What about feeding bread to ducks and geese in the park?

Feeding ducks and geese in the park seems like such a benign activity. But, if we’re feeding them bread, we’re also robbing nourishment from them. For waterfowl, a daily diet of bread, crackers and other snack foods from well-meaning park visitors can also lead to tragedy. Angel Wing syndrome is just one heart-breaking example of what can happen when we feed our snacks and leftovers to water birds.

As for feeding wild ducks and geese, there is a great deal of debate as to whether we are doing them any favors by feeding them anything at all. However, there are alternative ways we can support their health. See this Audubon.com article, ‘Don’t Feed the Waterfowl‘.

What Kind of Bread is Okay for Birds?

If you want a kind of bread that is ok for birds then feed the birds with bread that is healthy for humans is a good line to toe. Organic wholemeal or multi-grain is preferable.

To make bread even better for birds you can laden peanut butter all over the slice before breaking it up into smaller pieces.  Peanut butter is high in fat, calories, fat and magnesium.

Can Birds Eat Stale Bread?

Can Birds Eat Stale Bread?

Stale bread is bad for birds, thus, the loaf should be fresh.   Bread is often harder when it goes stale, however, the reason stale bread is bad for birds is that it has started to deteriorate.

Using thawed bread (like other types of frozen food) can lose some of its nutritional benefits too.  As always, fresh bread is best should you not have more suitable bird foods to hand…

Can Birds Eat Mouldy Bread?

Mouldy bread already has fungus growing on it and can be very dangerous to birds.  Inhaling the spores can affect their lungs and potentially cause serious damage or death to a bird.

2. Free Food Isn’t All It’s Quacked Up to Be

Treehugger / Christian Yonkers

In addition to the nutritional issues posed by abundant bread, too many handouts of any kind raise a wide range of problems for waterfowl. These include:

Overcrowding

Ducks and geese naturally find habitats that offer enough food, but handouts can lure large crowds to areas that wouldn’t normally support them. Natural foods are also widely scattered, letting birds eat in relative privacy, while competition is often fierce and stressful at artificial feeding sites.

Disease

Too many birds means too many droppings. That’s a health risk, both in water and on land. Plus, as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation points out, “diseases generally not transmissible in a wild setting find overcrowded and unsanitary conditions very favorable.”

Delayed Migration

Artificial feeding has been known to shorten or even eliminate migration patterns of waterfowl. They may be reluctant to leave a reliable food source despite the onset of winter, and then struggle to survive as temperatures fall — especially if the cold discourages their human feeders.

Expectations

Our gifts may also spur a few other negative changes in birds’ behavior. When adult ducks become obsessed with free bread, for example, they may fail to give their ducklings a sufficient education in foraging, thus committing them to a life as beggars. Once birds are dependent on handouts, they tend to lose their fear of humans and behave more aggressively.

What to Feed Birds

The good news is we can stop harming birds by feeding them nutritious food. Food pellets and seeds are inexpensive and will provide nutrition. Seeds contain vital fat and protein that birds need in order to be nourished and thrive. As they are nutrient dense they are small and easy to keep in a coat pocket.

Grapes chopped in half and kale in small strips are great for most birds due to being bite-sized and nutritious. Whatever food you feed them it needs to be in small pieces for their mouths.

Do research in your local area to ensure that the food you feed the birds is needed and therefore beneficial. Different birds in different locations have different needs.

Seeds are a nutritious food to feed birds, picture
Seeds are a nutritious food to feed birds, pictured is my 5 seed oat cakes.

Bread Means Trouble for the Environment, Too

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If waterfowl are fed so much bread that some of it goes uneaten, the uneaten bread poses another problem. The bread can grow mold which can make ducks sick. It can also contribute to algae growth in the water, which can kill animals and spread disease. Algal blooms can also do damage to the water quality and native aquatic plants of the river or lake.

Extra bread doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if everyone takes their kids to see the ducks, all that bread can build up, especially if there aren’t too many ducks to begin with. If you want to feed the ducks but see bread floating in the water, it’s a good sign that the ducks have had their fill already. Try back another time, but bring something a little better than bread!

What Can I Feed Birds Instead of Bread?

Luckily, there are some excellent bird food options that don’t put them in harm’s way. Cracked corn, sunflower seeds, safflower, and peanuts are all excellent choices.

Feeding birds sunflower seeds. (Photo: CC0 Public
Feeding birds sunflower seeds. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash – Andrik Langfield)

How to Give Birds Food

It’s also important to pay attention to how you feed birds. You can simply sprinkle nuts and seeds around your garden but this isn’t a good idea. Not only will the birds damage your lawn when they eat, but the food can attract unwanted visitors.

There are a number of different feeders you can get.

  • Some people like a flat top bird table. The food is placed on the top, and birds can sit on the top to feed. This is a simple way to feed birds, but food can be pushed off the edge if the table doesn’t have a rim.
  • If you want to give birds nuts and seeds, get a proper feeder which holds them. These can be hung from branches so the birds feel safe eating, and they also hold the food in place so it doesn’t spill.
  • Nectar feeding birds will need a proper nectar feeder. These are designed to hold the nectar safely in side and have special feeding slots for long beaks.
  • If you put out fat balls or suet blocks you will need the right size and shape of feeder. The blocks should slot in so that the birds can get to them, but they won’t fall out.

If you have more than one feeder, space them out around the garden. You will find more birds will come to eat if they have more room.

The Best Bird Food

At Armstrong, we’ve dedicated our lives to studying the dietary needs of birds across all species, so you can bet we know a thing about bird food. Instead of pulling something out of your pantry to feed to local avian species, why not try some seed that has been created especially for wild birds?

We offer an incredible variety of different bird seed products, and the birds’ health is our top priority. At Armstrong, we’ve created the Red Ribbon®, Scotts®, and Morning Melody® brands, all available in select retailers across the US and Canada.

By buying some wild bird seed, you can enjoy the satisfaction of feeding local wildlife and knowing that you’re helping them instead of hurting them. Check out our products online today, and pick them up at your nearby bird food retailer!

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