Many young birders have their first interest in birds while they feed bread to ducks at a local pond, but experienced birders know that bread is not a suitable food to offer birds – or is it? With care, there is good bread you can offer the birds.
Why Most Bread Is Bad for Birds
Most typical sliced bread or sandwich bread is a poor food choice for the birds – it 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 bread-like products such as crackers, chips, cookies 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, and they fail to get the proper nutrients for healthy growth and development.
What Makes Bread Good for Birds?
Despite the poor nutrition source most bread can be for birds, there is a way to offer healthier bread as an occasional treat for wild birds. In general, bread that is healthier for humans is also healthier for the birds – whole grain, multi-grain breads are best, especially if they are organically produced with minimal preservatives. Making a "sandwich" for the birds with extra ingredients to provide additional nutrition helps make the bread even healthier, such as adding…
- Peanut butter
- Fat drippings or softened suet
- Grape or apple jelly
After spreading the bread with these toppings, pressing birdseed into the bread will also make it a delicious treat that offers far better nutrition than bread alone.
When to Feed Bread to Birds
Above all, bread should never be offered regularly to birds. Just as candy is not suitable for a large part of a human's diet, bread is "candy" to birds and should be only a rare treat rather than a regular meal, even when it has been enhanced with healthier spreads and toppings. Ideally, bread scraps should be even more restricted in spring and early summer when parent birds are feeding their nestlings, and in winter, offering a lot of bread will not give birds the best nutrition to survive harsh storms and cold temperatures. The best time to feed birds bread – once in awhile – is at the height of summer after young birds have fledged and there are many birds visiting feeders and taking advantage of abundant natural, nutritional food sources. At that time, offering a few bites of bread will be less harmful for the birds that take advantage of it.
Feeding birds bread is not the healthiest option, but when the bread has healthier ingredients for a bird-friendly sandwich, it can be a fun, rare treat to add to your backyard buffet.
Photo – Whole-Grain Bread © sahua d