Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feeding Wild Birds - Bread

Stale, moldy wheat bread under my neighbor's feeder

I don't know where the notion that's okay to "feed bread to wild birds" originated.  (I do however, recall seeing something about stringing stale donuts and holiday pastries in an old Audubon brochure).

I learned it from my parents.  I remember them taking us kiddies down to the local duck pond and pulling out a bag of stale "wonder" bread.  We'd tear the bread into pieces, toss it at the birds and watch the ensuing commotion - the quacking, flying feathers and bill pecking. 

I can only assume my grandparents took my parents to the duck pond when they were little kids too.

I remember the next level of recycling table scraps into wild bird food:  making birdseed suet.   My mother would pickup beef kidney fat from the butcher.  (It was free back then).  We'd boil it up (render it), add some bird seed mix, let it cool in a rectangular pyrex pan, then cut it up into little squares to fit in wire mesh suet cages.

I'll bet my parents did the "rolling pine cones in peanut butter and birdseed" project when they were youngsters too.

I never thought much about whether any of this was "good" for the birds.  It was just something we did - and the adults always seemed to enjoy doing it with us.

I do however, remember my embarrassment when I learned how "bad" these seemingly innocuous activities can be for birds. 

First, the obvious:  despite the fact that birds will eat baked goods, they're not part of their natural diet.  Processed foods provide little or no nutritional value and may actually contribute to wing deformities and starvation. 

Bread is actually like junk food for waterfowl,” says Michele Goodman of the Webbed Foot Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic in Connecticut. “Handouts such as whole slices of bread, pizza crusts and bagels can actually cause birds to choke to death.”

Moldy bread is another story.  Birds are especially susceptible to Aspergillus mold pathogens, which can cause a respiratory disease known as Aspergillosis.  For more information, click on this link.

What's wrong with adding a mix of seeds to suet?

Birds that eat suet may eat peanuts, but millet, oats and milo are not high on their list of favorites.  Those seeds end up on the ground below the feeder - where they sit in a froth of feces, spilled seeds and food debris.

And rolling pine cones in peanut butter and seeds?  Again, it's safer for the birds to eat peanut butter from a sanitized plastic feeder - without the mix of seeds.

Remember:  for the best results - for birds and your pocketbook - offer separate seeds (fruits or mealworms) in separate feeders.

Just say "NO" to breads and pastries!

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