Lentils can be an essential part of a vegan or vegetarian diet. But you might wonder whether this legume is as healthy for birds as it is for us. Do birds eat lentils? Are they suitable for backyard birds? And if you are considering feeding lentils to birds, how should you serve them, and which type should you choose?
Working out what to feed the birds in their gardens can be a priority for bird lovers and those who have a passion for the natural world. We want to ensure that we do the right thing for the avian visitors with whom we share our space and keep them as healthy and happy as possible.
Do Birds Eat Lentils?
First things first, birds do indeed eat lentils. Birds eat lentils in crop fields and can become agricultural pests in some areas where lentils are grown.
Lentils are the lens-shaped seeds of Lens culinaris or Lens esculenta – annual legumes typically dried for use as a pulse (the dry, edible seed of plants in the legume family). In 2020, 45% of the world’s lentil crop was grown in Canada, almost entirely in Saskatchewan. India, where lentils are a diet staple, accounted for 18% of global production.
Birds can sometimes become a problem for farmers as they eat the lentils before they can be harvested. So those farmers are already aware that some birds do indeed eat lentils from the plants.
Many birds will eat lentils when offered in a garden at the bird feeder or bird feeding area on the ground. But how you serve them depends on which birds you want to attract with this treat.
Larger birds can sometimes eat raw, dried lentils whole, while many more cannot but will appreciate them when they are served in different ways. Ground feeders are among those that can eat raw lentils. However, that is not to say that they should be offered this way – read on to find out more.
Which Birds Eat Lentils?
Larger birds like pigeons, crows, doves, and pheasants can and will eat whole, raw, dry lentils.
Smaller birds like finches, for example, can eat lentils, too – but these smaller species cannot eat them whole and dried. So the lentils must be prepared before they are offered to the species you might find at a typical backyard birdseed feeder.
Are Lentils Good for Birds?
However, just because birds will eat something does not mean it is necessarily good for their health. Like us, birds will often eat things that are not all that good for them. Lentils offer a somewhat mixed picture regarding how healthy they are for birds.
On the one hand, lentils provide carbohydrates and protein, iron, magnesium, B6, and folates – all of which help to keep birds healthy. They are also a good source of dietary fiber.
However, lentils cannot provide all the proper nutrients that birds need, so they should not be overserved and certainly should not make up the bulk of a bird’s daily diet.
Here are some other considerations to bear in mind:
Does the Color of the Lentils Matter?
There are several different types of lentils that you might be able to grow or buy. The most common lentils are:
- Brown lentils – unhulled and unsplit, a russet-brown, with a mild, earthy flavor.
- Green lentils – a common and readily available type with a greenish-brown color and a mildly peppery taste.
- Red lentils – typically hulled and split, these cook more quickly and have a sweet and mildly nutty flavor. Most lentils grown in Canada are red lentils.
There are also Puy lentils from France, which are small, dark, and speckled, large yellow lentils (usually split like red lentils) from Mexico, and black lentils called ‘Indianhead’ in Canada, which are also called Beluga due to their resemblance to Beluga caviar.
Unhulled types have less fiber than hulled varieties but are more easily consumed by a broader range of birds. But all colors share the nutritional benefits mentioned above.
Can Wild Birds Eat Raw Dried Lentils?
Remember, only larger birds (primarily ground feeders) can eat dried and raw lentils.
Raw lentils also contain substances that interfere with the absorption of nutrients – such as trypsin inhibitors, which impact the breakdown of proteins, and phytates, which reduce the bioavailability of dietary minerals. They can give birds issues if they are eaten frequently.
Can Birds Eat Lentil Sprouts?
The phytates in raw lentils are easily reduced by soaking and then fermenting or sprouting the lentils, and sprouting is also effective in removing trypsin inhibitor activity.
Soaking and sprouting lentils make them safer for birds to eat and make it possible for these legumes to be eaten by a much wider range of birds. So if you would like to feed lentils to birds in your garden, soaking and sprouting these first is generally the best policy.
Can Birds Eat Cooked Lentils?
Cooking removes the antinutrient factors. It also softens them, making the beneficial nutrients they contain available to a wider range of birds. So if you have leftovers, you may consider feeding them to the birds in your garden.
When lentils are cooked by boiling, protein content declines to 9% of the total composition, and B vitamins and minerals decrease due to the excess water content. But they are still an excellent source of many essential nutrients.
Can Birds Eat Flavored Lentils?
If you are feeding leftovers with lentils in them, remember to think about what other ingredients might have been included in a recipe. Salt and other flavorings may not be as safe for the birds as the pulse. Salt can be a problem for birds, even in relatively small quantities.
Can Birds Eat Lentil Soup?
A homemade lentil soup can be fine for birds if it just contains lentils. But don’t feed the birds anything salty, and look for other ingredients that might harm your feathered friends.
Can Birds Eat Lentil Curry/ Dal?
Again, make sure you know exactly what has gone into the recipe. Aside from salt, you might not realize it, for example, but onions can also be a problem for birds and should not be fed to the birds in your garden.
How Should You Feed Lentils to Birds?
If you would like to be able to feed lentils to birds, then you can either consider growing them yourself in your garden or buying them. This is the most eco-friendly choice where you can grow your own foods for birds in your garden.
Grow Your Own Lentils for Birds
Lentils can be grown in USDA zones 7-12 in North America. Though most commonly grown in warm temperate and tropical climate zones, these plants are remarkably hardy and can be grown successfully even in cool summer areas.
As legumes, lentils form a symbiotic relationship with bacteria which fix nitrogen from the air and deposit it in the soil. Some of that nitrogen is used by the plant itself, while some are made available to other plants growing nearby or plants that follow lentils in crop rotation.
So as well as providing food for yourself and the birds on your property, growing lentils can be very useful as an organic gardening strategy.
Feed Lentils You Have Purchased to Birds in the Garden
Of course, you might not be able to grow lentils where you live. If you are buying lentils for yourself or for birds as a feeder treat, it is important to consider where they came from and how they were grown.
If you want to do the right thing for people, wildlife, and the environment, you should always make sure that you choose organic lentils grown as close to home as possible.
Soak and sprout the raw lentils, or cook them and place them in a shallow dish in the garden as supplemental food. Just remember that it is more important to ensure you have a garden filled with natural food sources for birds to eat, which will make up the bulk of the diet of your feathered friends.