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8 Non-Seed Wild Bird Foods For The Bird Feeder

Wild birds don't simply eat seed. Find out what other household foods you can give them.

Sharon Stiteler

Hummingbird at feeder
There are many types of bird feeders, depending on the bird species.

Excerpted from "The Need for Seed,” by Sharon Stiteler, Backyard Birding, Volume 1, published by I-5 Publishing, publisher of BIRD TALK and

A few tips for pet bird owners loading up their wild bird feeders with non-seed food. One, unlike when feeding the more sedentary pet birds, with wild birds you can feed foods that are high in fat. Two, food at the wild bird feeder can attract animals other than wild birds so place the feeder close enough that you can watch the birds and monitor the feeder but not close enough for critters to make a beeline for your house and scare your bird-watching pet bird. Three, although you don’t need to clean out your bird feeder as frequently as you change your pet bird’s food dishes, you still need to clean the bird feeder at least twice a month – more frequently for nectar and jelly feeders. Backyard birds can get very sick from ingesting moldy or rancid food. Fourth, the following are some great non-seed additions to your wild bird feeder:

1) Suet: Suet is rendered beef fat. It is a tantalizing high-energy wild bird treat that you can purchase in raw chunks or flavored cakes and plugs. Suet cake flavors range from peanut to sunflower to fruit. Wild birds are most attracted to the peanut butter flavor. Wild birds that eat suet include woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, warblers, tanagers and orioles.

2) Nectar: Natural nectar found in plants contains sucrose, glucose and fructose. Natural plant nectars are generally 21 to 25 percent sugar. The recipe that most closely resembles natural plant nectar is four parts boiling water to one part sugar. Only put nectar out for birds after it cools. Never use honey, artificial sweetener or red food coloring for homemade nectar as it can hurt your birds. Wild birds that eat nectar are hummingbirds, orioles, house finches and woodpeckers.

3) Grape Jelly: Although you can feed this to your wild birds, do not feed this to your pet birds! The jelly does not need to be fancy and should be offered in small, brightly colored dishes. Orioles eat grape jelly.

4) Mealworms: A nice protein addition to the wild bird feeder. You can buy mealworms at pet bird stores. Wild birds that eat mealworms include chickadees, nuthatches, bluebirds, Northern cardinals, thrashers, gray catbirds, warblers and American robins.

5) Popcorn: Prepare like you would for pet birds – popped but no salt and no butter. There is no real nutritional value but it is fun to eat. Wild birds that eat this include European starlings, grackles, crows and maybe geese.

6) Fresh Fruit: Fruit provides much needed nutrition for wild birds. When offering fresh fruit, throw it out before it becomes rancid and then clean your bird feeder. Oranges attract orioles, house finches, Northern cardinals, robins, gray catbirds, thrashers, jays, woodpeckers and blackbirds. Old bananas and melon attract fruit flies, which attract hummingbirds.

7) Peanut Butter: A great energy source that offers high-protein to wild birds, especially during the winter season. You can mix it with cornmeal to create a dry dough, then place the dough in a suet cage in clumps on a platform feeder or spread it on the side of a tree. Wild birds that eat peanut butter include Carolina wrens, Northern cardinals, brown thrashers, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers.

8) Eggshells: As many pet bird people know, crushed eggshells can be a beneficial supplement to a female bird’s diet during the breeding season to help replace calcium lost during the egg-laying process.  When offering eggshells to any birds, sterilize them first.  Boil the eggshells for 10 minutes, bake them at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes in a conventional oven or microwave them for six minutes. After the egg shells have been sterilized, crush them up until they are about the size of a peanut or sunflower seed so wild birds of all sizes can eat them. Place them under the bird feeder or on a tray mixed with wild bird seeds.

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Posted: November 22, 2010, 2:15 p.m.

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8 Non-Seed Wild Bird Foods For The Bird Feeder

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Reader Comments
Your website is great. I have been a back yard birder for some time. I enjoy watching them eat and yes I also have the dreaded Coopers Hawk coming around. Thank you for all your information.
Jo Ann, Arcadia, CA
Posted: 9/12/2013 1:16:27 PM
Thanks for these good ideas. I've used suet in the past. I'll have to try these other great ideas.
Karen, Carson City, NV
Posted: 2/26/2011 5:09:03 PM
james, brooklyn, NY
Posted: 2/23/2011 7:47:38 PM
good article
melinda, westchester, NY
Posted: 2/23/2011 7:44:09 PM
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