When I was young, before feeding birds became popular, my grandmother would put out bread, peanut butter and other table scraps on a tray to feed the birds during the winter. Her birds seemed to love it. Yet, I don’t see this done much anymore. Is bread safe, or are we better off only using birdseed? I have also heard that birds have trouble swallowing peanut butter and may choke. I am worried that I am harming the birds. Is it safe to use peanut butter?
Villa Rica, Ga.
Good questions, Marie. I remember my grandmother and mother putting out leftovers for birds. They used wide planks on top of a stump or a concrete block as feeders. I would sit for hours watching the birds come from all directions to eat. My cat, Tiger, watched with me.
There is nothing wrong with putting a little bread out for the birds once in a while. It’s a great way to use up old bread and to save a few bucks on birdseed. The key phrase here is “once in a while.” Many birds love white bread, but as the late Dr. Atkins would have told you, white bread isn’t all that good for us or them. White bread is mostly empty calories. I always told my daughter when we went out to eat, “If you fill up on bread, you won’t eat your dinner.” That was usually followed by “Get your elbows off the table and put the gum back under the chair where you found it.” Elbows and gum aren’t big issues for birds, but filling up on junk food can be.
Birds can find a balanced diet for themselves in nature. But when the weather is bad, the days are short, and foraging time is limited, a belly full of bread is easier to achieve even though it may not give them the energy they need to make it through a cold night. Birdseed, on the other hand, is full of the fat and protein that birds find in nature. So yes, birds can eat bread; but no, too much is not a good thing.
A better alternative to stale sandwich bread is doughnuts. A plain doughnut is actually better for birds than it is for us – all that extra fat that clogs our arteries is just what birds need. A second good alternative is piecrust. Also, try chunks of cooked eggs – although you would think that eggs would go against some unwritten bird code.
Peanut butter is another safe and nutritious substitute for bread. I’ve never found a dead bird with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich clutched in its feet. And I have yet to hear of anyone who had to Heimlich a nuthatch. Birds don’t take the same size bites that an adult human would. They take little pecks that they can easily swallow – just like you probably take smaller bites than Mike Tyson or Homer Simpson.
The biggest problems associated with feeding people food to birds are spoilage and a yard full of unwanted critters. Birdseed can become dangerously moldy if not kept dry, but it holds up much better than a plate of scrambled eggs. No alternative food does well in warm or rainy weather. The best time to use it is when the weather is cold and dry. Birdseed also attracts fewer rats, raccoons, possums and coyotes, so clean up any scraps more than a few days old or your yard will look like the dumpster behind a fast food restaurant.