5 Weird Things From Your Kitchen You Can Feed to Backyard Birds

You may be surprised by some of the foods that your feathered friends will enjoy now and then.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
A Tennessee warbler perches on a feeder.
Photo: iStock

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While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advises against feeding many types of wild animals, birds are generally excluded from these guidelines. Unlike some other wild animals, feeding birds with safe foods does not alter their behavior or threaten their health. While many types of people food are not considered safe, there are a few “weird” items that are safe to share with your backyard bird visitors in moderation. Read on to learn more about some of these food items.

Cheese

Sparrow in the air with open wings collecting food from a person's hand.
Photo: iStock

Certain types of cheese can be fed to birds, but only occasionally and only in moderation. Birds love the taste of cheese, and it can provide them with protein and fat to help them survive when food isn’t as abundant. Some birds that might enjoy a cheese snack include wrens, robins, blackbirds, starlings, and thrushes. You can also try sprinkling some cheese to attract birds to your birdfeeder.

However, not all cheeses are considered safe for birds. Some cheeses, like ricotta or cottage cheese, have too much salt and can be dangerous to birds. These and other soft cheese, such as brie, can also get stuck on the birds’ beaks or feathers, putting their health at risk. 

If you want to feed the birds in your backyard some cheese on occasion, stick with harder varieties, such as cheddar, Swiss, or Monterey jack. Grate the cheese to make it easier for the birds to safely eat, and avoid putting too much out. Not only will this prevent the birds from eating more than they should, but cheese also goes bad quickly, especially in the heat.

Melon Seeds

A bananaquit perches on a bird feeder near a slice of watermelon.
Photo: iStock

“After you enjoy a refreshing watermelon or cantaloupe this summer, don’t toss the seeds,” says Bill Freimuth, the Vice President of Sales with Centurion Brands, a gardening and outdoor living company. Freimuth explains that dried melon seeds are a tasty source of energy and are a favorite of many birds, including cardinals, blue jays, and chickadees. 

“Just be sure to rinse the seeds first to remove any leftover fruit flesh, then dry them thoroughly on a paper towel before placing them in a feeder or on a bird-feeding tray,” he explains. You could even roast the watermelon or cantaloupe seeds in the oven—without any salt or other seasonings—before sharing them with your feathered friends.

Cooked, Unsalted Popcorn

The male Brewer's Blackbird eating popcorn.
Photo: iStock

If you want to be a good neighbor to backyard wildlife, the birds will be thrilled if you share some plain, unsalted, and unflavored popcorn with them. According to Freimuth, popcorn kernels “are a good source of carbohydrates for birds, especially ground-feeding birds like doves, sparrows, and juncos.” He explains, “You can offer them whole or break them up into smaller pieces.” 

If you want to share this treat with the birds in your yard, just make sure that you are only feeding them fully popped kernels. The kernels should be air-popped; they should not come from a bag of microwave popcorn, because, as Freimuth notes, “the buttery flavorings and coatings can be extremely harmful to birds.”

Shredded Coconut

Eurasian blue tit bird perched on an opened coconut.
Photo: iStock

“Not just for piña coladas, shredded coconut can be a surprising treat for some bird species like woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches,” Freimuth shares. Shredded coconut is more than just tasty; it is also nutritious. According to Freimuth, the fruit has a high fat content that “provides much-needed energy, particularly during cold weather.”

If you are going to feed your birds this fruit, it is important to choose plain, unsweetened shredded—not desiccated—coconut. Desiccated coconut can be potentially fatal for birds. The coconut is ground, not shredded, and has a much lower moisture content. When birds swallow it, it may end up swelling in their stomach, blocking the absorption of important nutrients their bodies need to stay alive. 

Eggshells

A sparrow stands on a bird feeder.
Photo: iStock

While eggshells are technically food for birds, they more importantly play a critical role by aiding digestion. Freimuth recommends finely crushing the shells with a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle. Then, he says, “Sprinkle them on a bird feeder tray or near a natural feeding area.” The birds will consume the tiny pieces of egg shell as they munch on the other food in the feeder.

In addition to serving as a digestive aid, Freimuth explains, “Birds like robins, finches, and sparrows use the calcium in crushed eggshells to help form their eggs and strengthen their bones.” He also notes the importance of trying to keep squirrels and other wildlife from eating the crushed eggshells. The added calcium the eggshells deliver isn’t as important to these other critters as it is to birds.