Can I Feed Bread to the Birds?

Many people have memories of going to a park and tossing out scraps of bread to feed the pigeons and ducks. It is not unusual for people to put out bread that has gone stale in their backyard feeders, too, so that it "doesn't go to waste". However, it is best not to offer bread as it often does more harm than good.

Bread molds fast outside and injesting these molds can cause a whole range of illnesses in birds. Bread offered in too large pieces may also cause blockages in birds' digestive tracts. Crop stasis, a condition where the crop fails to empty properly and food ferments leading to secondary yeast infections, can result from bread consumption.

Bread is more likely to attract nuisance bird species, particularly European Starlings, House Sparrows, and pigeons.

The biggest problem with offering bread is that it does not offer proper nutrition to birds. Birds that fill up on bread feel full, but have not obtained the fats and proteins needed for survival. Many of our favorite feeder birds have digestive systems that rely on calories obtained from dietary fats, not dietary carbohydrates, for daily health and survival.

Consider the following facts:

  • Dietary fats supply bird with energy, essential fatty acids, and pigments.
  • Fats are the most concentrated energy source that a bird can consume.
  • Fats are the only dietary component that is deposited intact into a bird’s tissue.
  • Stored fats are the primary energy supply that fuels a bird between meals, throughout migration, and during a chick’s embryonic development.
  • In small passerines the amount of fat stored is a function of overnight energy expenditure used to maintain metabolic rate and body temperature. Up to ¾ of fat reserves may be used in one night and replenished the next day.
  • When fat reserves are depleted, protein, mostly from muscles, is depleted to sustain energy needs.
  • 100 grams of white bread contains only 28.6 calories from fat; you may get up to 40 calories in some multi-grain breads. By comparison, 100 grams of black oil sunflower has 354 calories from fat. How about other favorite seeds of our backyard birds? The same amount of safflower offers 322 fat calories, peanut chunks give 413 fat calories, and sunflower chips offer a whopping 429 fat calories. Those tiny nyjer thistle seeds that goldfinches love? Yup, they're fatty too, providing 342 fat calories per 100 grams.

These seeds all also offer more protein calories than bread. 100 grams of bread offers about 30 protein calories, while black oil sunflower gives 74 protein calories. There are 56 protein calories for safflower, 91 for peanut chunks, 70 for sunflower chips, and 84 for nyjer thistle.

If providing seeds isn't in the budget, you can do best for birds by creating a bird-friendly yard that is landscaped with native plants, free of roaming cats, and untreated with pesticides. Check out the National Audubon Society's Native Plant Guide for the best plant choices for your habitat!