Honey is an incredibly healthy and useful natural sweetener for us humans. Unfortunately, it certainly isn’t something you should feed to garden birds. Nor should you feed honey to pet birds like parrots, parakeets, or cockatiels.
People often read about honey’s miraculous human health benefits and wonder whether this substance can deliver the same health benefits to birds.
Unfortunately, even wild honey is not a wonder food for birds. Quite the opposite, it can be bad for them and is best avoided altogether. So, choose health over honey when feeding your feathered friends.
Do Birds Eat Honey?
Unfortunately, birds, like us, will often eat things that are not good for them. And honey is no exception.
Birds will happily eat anything you offer in search of sweet, energy-rich foods to sustain themselves. That includes honey.
But honey is bad for birds and can cause a range of health problems. So this is something that you should never feed them. While some kinds of honey are more problematic than others, none is a great choice for feeding your feathered friends.
Why Is Honey Bad for Birds?
There are four main reasons why honey is bad for birds. It can harbor harmful bacteria and molds, which will sicken your backyard visitors.
Honey also has an extremely high sugar content, making it an unhealthy treat for avian life, yet it is not exceptionally high in most nutrients birds need. It is also acidic, which can cause problems within a bird’s digestive system. Let’s examine each area of concern.
Risk of Botulism and Other Pathogens
Even the best quality honey can harbor bacteria and mold that can be fatal to backyard birds, causing botulism and other serious health problems.
It is not the honey itself, per se, but rather the risk from the microorganisms raw honey contains that can be dangerous to garden birds.
Raw honey can harbor botulism, a hazardous toxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. This can cause birds to die quickly or lead to extreme sickness, nerve issues, weakness, and even paralysis in some cases.
High Sugar Content
The second reason that honey is bad for birds is its extremely high natural sugar content. And just as for us, too much of this ingredient can harm birds’ health.
Meager Nutritional Benefits
Like us, birds need a balanced diet. They require plenty of protein, fats, and vitamins, and honey consumption won’t provide any of these things.
Though honey is beneficial to our health and provides some essential nutrients, a bird will get few benefits from eating it, and the risks of doing so considerably outweigh the benefits.
Low pH – Acidity
The final reason that honey is not a good choice for birds to eat is that it typically has high acidity.
Honey’s pH levels vary depending on the type of honey and the nectar from which it was made, but typically, honey’s pH is between 3.4 and 6.1. The gluconic acid within the honey, especially more acidic ones, can cause problems within a bird’s digestive system and cause discomfort.
What About Organic Honey?
Unfortunately, even top-notch raw organic honey can harbor potential pathogens and cause illness or even death in birds. Even organic honey will also be high in sugar, low in nutritional benefits for birds, and have an acidic pH level.
What About Pasteurized Honey?
Pasteurized honey is honey that has been through the pasteurization process. This process involves heating the honey to eliminate the pathogens it contains. This process was named after Louis Pasteur, a French microbiologist who researched using thermal processing to deactivate unwanted microorganisms in the 1860s.
Pasteurized honey won’t contain the same risks as raw honey regarding bacteria or potential mold growth. So you might, in theory, feed it to birds in very small amounts.
Unfortunately, the pasteurization process that eliminates the pathogen risks also lessens the nutritional and health benefits of the honey – it won’t provide a whole lot beyond empty calories.
What About Cereals, Baked Goods, or Other Recipes Containing Honey?
Cereal grains can be good for birds, and you can leave out small portions of dry breakfast cereals for garden birds. However, cereals high in sugar or containing honey are not good options, and it is best to avoid feeding these to birds.
Things like honey cheerios, for example, and honey bunches of oats are very high in sugar, so they won’t do birds any good at all and could be harmful in sufficient quantity.
An occasional cake crumb or a portion from other baked goods containing a little bit of honey is unlikely to do much harm. But of course, these must be fresh and quickly consumed so pathogens don’t take hold and should be only a very occasional treat to avoid issues with excessive sugar consumption.
Can You Put Honey in a Hummingbird Feeder?
The hummingbird may come to mind when you think about sugar and birds. You might wonder whether you can substitute the sugar-water solution in a hummingbird feeder for a honey-water solution. The answer is no.
There are high potential risks of pathogens when the honey-water solution is left in a feeder. Unfortunately, the pathogen risk increases when honey is diluted with water, and its fermentation is accelerated.
Also, these birds cannot digest honey as well as they can digest a simply granulated sugar and water solution.
You might think that honey would be a healthy treat for hummingbirds since it comes from nectar – one of their primary food sources. But nectar to honey conversion changes its composition in various ways and turns it into something hummingbirds should not eat.
You should avoid feeding hummingbirds molasses, brown sugar, or maple syrup since these can also pose potential health risks to these birds.
Can You Put Honey in Fat balls or Suet Cakes for Birds?
Putting honey in fat balls or suet cakes is not a good idea. For one thing, mixing honey with these meat products can cause spoiling and pathogen risks, but also, the honey provides sugar, which is less beneficial. Birds need to build up their fat stores in winter when these things are usually offered.
So, protein-rich seeds and nuts held together with natural fat will be better to provide garden birds with what they need. Any sugar you wish to provide for birds to enhance their wild diet should come from natural food sources like berries. Dried berries or fruit can be an excellent addition to fat balls in winter.
But always remember that while supplemental feeding can be beneficial for birds, especially in winter and through other critical times of the year, you should focus on creating a bird-friendly garden filled with healthier foods. Your garden should be filled with native plants that provide nutritious food to a range of birds and attract the insects that many birds also like to eat.
If you focus on planting rather than on feeders, you will be doing the best job for the birds with whom you share your space.