Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

What Do Birds Eat? What Can I Feed Wild Birds?

Last Updated on

cardinal bird perching

Watching birds congregate around your garden feeder and on your lawn is a great way to while away an afternoon. While some people are lucky enough to have a garden that naturally attracts birds, primarily because of the abundance of food and the range of food types available on and around the vegetation, others choose to put out food in a bid to attract birds.

It is generally considered acceptable to feed wild birds, although what you feed them will depend on the exact species of bird as well as factors like availability and time of year. Nuts, seeds, and small insects are generally considered healthy, attractive food sources. 

Read on to find out more about feeding your wild bird population.

owl divider 2

Is It Good to Feed Wild Birds?

It is generally accepted that you should only feed wild animals when it will not cause harm to do so. Most conservationists and experts agree that feeding wild birds is safe, although there are some opponents to wild bird feeding that claim it makes them dependent on you as a food source. If you were to move, they would continue to come back to your garden and may starve because their regular food source has dried up.

Bear in mind that wild birds only really need supplemental food sources when natural food is scarce or when they need additional energy and nutrients. During late winter and early spring, there may not be many fruits and berries on the trees and insects can be scarce, but the birds are preparing for breeding and nesting, so this is considered a good time of year to feed them.

During summer, there should be plentiful natural food and the birds will not require your help in providing tidbits. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, and you can put out seeds for goldfinches and nectar for hummingbirds during the summer months.

What Can I Feed My Backyard Birds?

group of birds
Image Credit: SAJE, Shutterstock

If you do buy prepared seed and wild bird feed, do make sure that it is good quality and doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients. You may be presented with a wide range of different seeds and mixes, so try to choose one that is appropriate for the types and species of birds that visit your garden. Below are some ingredients and foods that are usually readily and easily available and that offer benefit to your avian visitors.

  • Sunflower Seeds – Any type of sunflower seed can be fed to wild birds. The striped seeds are quite hard so may only prove suitable for the toughest of birds, but the black-oil sunflower seed is easier to crack. Even those birds that cannot get through the shell enjoy them, and they will scavenge cracked seeds from the ground around your feeder. Sunflower seeds, especially the black-oil variant, are high in fat so they make a good source of sustenance and energy during the winter months.
  • Peanuts – You can feed plain, dry-roasted, and unsalted peanuts to your wild birds but you should not feed those that still have their shells. Peanuts are another food that is high in calories and will keep birds going throughout winter. They are also conveniently sized and they are known to be especially popular with jays and woodpeckers.
  • Suet – Sunflower seeds and peanuts are popular because of their fat content, and suet is essentially made from animal fat. You can feed commercial suet or raw suet and it will be a very popular addition to your garden. You may need a specialist suet feeder if you opt for the raw variety.
  • Cracked CornSparrows and blackbirds especially love cracked corn. Be aware, however, that this type of food may also attract small animals like squirrels and larger species like deer and moose. Whole corn is suitable for squirrels, and you can put this down away from the bird feeder to keep squirrels away from your wild bird food source, but the birds cannot eat it because the kernels are too large and challenging to get into.
  • Mealworms – Mealworms are a popular treat for domestic and pet birds, as well as lizards and other creatures, and they are also popular with wild birds. Buy them live from fishing shops and pet shops or buy the tubs of dried mealworms. Be aware that some species of birds will eat mealworms over all other food sources, which means that they could potentially be missing out on essential vitamins and minerals that would normally come from seeds. Feed sparingly but enjoy watching the bluebirds mop them up.
  • Fruit – Fruit is just as important to birds as it is to humans. It is also very difficult for birds to find during the winter months. Your wild population will enjoy citrus fruit and you can even feed raisins, as long as you cut them up and soak them first.

Can You Feed Wild Birds Bread?

Bread is not usually considered harmful or dangerous for wild birds, but it is also nutritionally low quality, so while your garden visitors will eat it up, they will not be getting the nutrition they need from their diet. Feed it in moderation and soak it first to make it easier to digest. Also, brown bread is considered better for wild birds than white.

dove eating bread on the grass
Image Credit: NVS my world, Shutterstock

Can Birds Eat Oatmeal?

Oatmeal is a filling food source, and it can also dehydrate birds if they are given too much of the dry cereal. Soak oats before feeding and ensure that you provide access to a decent water source when feeding this particular type of food.

Can Birds Eat Crackers?

Crackers can make a decent food source for birds, but they have the same problem as bread, which is that they do not provide much nutritional value other than filling the bird up. This means that they will be less likely to eat more beneficial food types. Soak crackers and ensure that you do not feed processed crackers with human flavorings.

Can Birds Eat Uncooked Rice?

Cooked rice is great for a host of bird species, but uncooked rice can be too challenging for most. Pigeons are one of the exceptions, and they will eat and enjoy this uncooked grain.

birds house
Image Credit: Piqsels

What Do Songbirds Eat?

Songbirds will eat any of the food types listed above that are considered suitable for wild birds. This includes sunflower seeds, cracked corn, fruit, and peanuts. Providing a mix is a good way of encouraging a diverse range of birds to your garden and ensuring that they all enjoy the food you provide.

Related Read: Can Birds Eat Popcorn? What You Need to Know!

•You might also like:What is the State Bird of Missouri? How Was it Decided?

owl divider 2

What Do Wild Birds Eat?

There are many species of wild bird that might visit your garden, and while some will have a preference for certain types of food over others, most will enjoy a good selection of seeds, nuts, and fruit. You can buy commercial seed but do make sure that it is a good quality one, and you can even use the ingredients above to make your own treats. Use fat, such as raw suet, to hold everything together and place them around a stick or other natural material. This not only gives the birds sustenance and provides them with food when it is difficult to find naturally, but it challenges them to pull the treats apart so that they can enjoy the food.

Featured Image Credit: Piqsels

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.