Can Birds Eat Bread?

Published May 7, 2024
male and female mallard ducks swimming together

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It may seem like a harmless good deed to share some old bread with our outdoor feathered friends or to give a bite or two to your parrot. But should birds eat bread? Read on to find out all you need to know about offering bread to birds.

Is Bread Bad for Birds?

As tempting as it is to share bread with your birds—whether domesticated or wild—it is best to simply avoid it.

Although bread isn’t toxic to birds, it isn’t good for them either. Bread is loaded with carbs and empty calories that fill your bird up quickly, preventing them from eating healthy foods while providing little to no nutritional value.

Feeding birds bread can result in malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies if it is eaten regularly or in large amounts.

Birds are designed to eat nutrient-rich food, which varies by species. For many, the staples include insects, tender plants, fish, and caterpillars. Around breeding and migration times, they may add high-fat seeds into their diet for a boost of calories.

Rarely, however, do birds seek out carbohydrate-rich foods with little extra nutrition such as bread—unless it’s presented to them by a human.

Feeding birds bread can result in malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies if it is eaten regularly or in large amounts.

Think of bread as the same as human junk food snacks. Birds like the taste, and bread can almost become addictive—birds may seek bread out in lieu of the other foods they really need to maintain a balanced diet. For these reasons, it’s important not to feed bread to birds.

What Do Wild Birds Eat?

In the wild, birds are the original “eat the rainbow” animals. Every species of bird has a slightly different diet of what they prefer to eat. Their foods may include:

  • Plant buds

  • Flowers

  • Tender green emerging plants

  • Flies

  • Worms

  • Moths

  • Mosquitoes

  • Wild fruits such as strawberries and raspberries

By eating diverse foods, wild birds obtain the balanced diet they need. This diet is essentially ruined when bread is fed to them.

What To Feed Wild Birds Instead of Bread

The best food to feed wild birds depends on what types of birds you would like to attract, and the time of year.

Many feeder birds love sunflower seeds; these are enjoyed by larger birds who eat them shell and all, while smaller birds especially enjoy the sunflower hearts, tapped out of the shell. Many birds love a variety of fruits, nuts, and insects as well.

Woodpeckers love eating suet hung in a feeder; the suet can often be purchased in the meat department of a grocery store. These birds will also happily collect shelled peanuts.

Ground-feeding birds such as doves seek out the food droppings from feeders above, but they’ll also happily eat the millet that’s ignored by many other bird species.

Remember, however, that bird feeders will attract rodents, so be sure to wash and clean your feeders regularly for the health of your wild birds, and to frequently rake the entire feeder area.

What To Feed Pet Birds

What we tend to feed our pet birds is very different from what we feed wild birds, for several reasons.

First, our bird companions often originate from very different parts of the world than where they currently live, so it is simply not possible for us to forage a “natural” diet for them.

Second, pet birds do not undergo the heavy stresses of raising a family or migrating as they would in the wild, so they do not require the high-calorie and fatty seed diets that wild birds eat.

The best food choice for our pet birds is a nutritionally complete, balanced diet in a pelleted form. Recommended food for pet birds includes:

Pet birds should not be given seed foods. Although seeds are considered delicious by birds and often a staple of commercial foods, they are high in fat and calories, which our pet birds do not need. Bread, of course, also falls in this category.

For treats, healthy table foods—such as small amounts of lean meat, vegetables, and fruits—are options to complement the pelleted diets that should make up the bulk of a pet bird’s calories.

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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