9 Foods You Should Never Feed to Birds

Updated: Apr. 10, 2024

Can birds eat bread? Not all people foods are safe for birds. Leave these nine foods off the menu to keep your backyard birds happy and healthy.

suet feeder downy woodpecker

When you see small, sweet creatures hopping along, it seems so harmless to draw them in with whatever snacks you have available.  Though the urge is fierce to feed birds bread and other convenience foods, try to resist. Dishes people consume are generally bad for birds in the same way that junk food is bad for our systems.

“Malnutrition is certainly a risk if birds aren’t getting the food that they need,” says John Rowden, senior director for bird-friendly communities at Audubon. “They can be undernourished, which makes them more susceptible to disease, so it could cause health or lethal consequences.”

With that knowledge, here’s a list of nine nibbles to avoid feeding your feathered friends.

Bread

People often ask if birds can eat bread and if bread is bad for birds. Because bread causes birds to become full quickly, fliers may skip foods with actual nutritional value.

Raw Meat

It might seem like a good idea to set out raw meat as a winter treat, but it can go rancid and spoil—and attract unwanted guests. “As soon as you put raw meat out it starts to transform because it’s outside of a refrigerated environment,” John says.

blue jay eating peanuts

Seeds and Nuts Sold for People

Sunflower seeds and legumes made for humans often have large amounts of salt. Birdseed is produced specifically for birds, leaving out the extra sodium. Or instead of shopping for birdseed, save time and money by growing native plants that produce fruit, seeds and nectar. Favorites include crabapple trees, sunflowers and salvia. Get to know the difference between striped and black oil sunflower seeds.

Bacon Fat

Bacon fat is very salty, has additives and spoils easily. To make suet, get high-quality fat straight from the butcher, before it gets processed.

Potato Chips

While this popular snack is often a staple at outdoor gatherings, just like when birds eat bread, it doesn’t provide proper nutrition. Keep these salty snacks for the people at your next picnic.

hummingbird feeder

Honey

You’d think birds could use the calories and sugar, but honey can grow mold in addition to becoming troublesome and sticky.

Red Food Coloring

There’s no need to add any food coloring to your hummingbird sugar water. The dye is harmful and won’t attract more birds.

Old Birdseed

Serve fresh seed to ensure your backyard friends aren’t exposed to moldy or rancid food. Learn how to clean your bird feeders.

how to keep cats from killing birds, indoor cats watching birds

Pet Food

Dog and cat food lacks nutrition for birds and may attract mice, rats or other backyard pests. In the end, it all comes down to mindset. “In their heart of hearts, people are trying to do the right thing, and what they want to do is help birds,” John says. “Great; we want to encourage that, it’s just finding the right foods.”