Can Birds Eat Oats? A Guide to Safely Feeding Birds!

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Birders want to see birds in their backyards, but we also want to make sure that we don’t do anything that would harm the birds we love.

A good birder will investigate what they feed to their backyard birds before making a decision about what to put in a feeder or scatter on the ground.

Oats are a great example of something people should look into before they offer them to their birds. There are many different kinds of oats, and several ways to prepare them.

Most of the time, feeding oats to birds is fine—but you want to avoid making any mistakes that could hurt any of the birds who visit your feeders.

Are Oats Safe for Birds?

In general, yes. Raw porridge oats are safe for species of birds.

In most situations, uncooked porridge oats are a delicious treat that many birds enjoy. After all, the oats you purchase in the grocery store or from a wild bird store are not that different from the oats that birds encounter in the wild.

The most important thing that you have to remember is that you can’t feed birds cooked oatmeal. The soft, cooked oats can harden and cake around a bird’s beak, making it difficult to breathe. 

Oats Are Safe for Birds, But are They Beneficial?

Just like humans and plenty of other species, birds can overeat or eat things that aren’t the healthiest option for them.

When considering a new food for your backyard birds, you will have to determine if it should be given in moderation, freely, or none at all.

Are oats one of those things that you have to be careful about it, like nutritionless junk food?

Nope! Oats are actually a very nutritious food source for birds. They have plenty of fiber, fats, and protein. Additionally, they have minimal salt. Oats have vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc—all excellent sources of nutrients in a bird’s diet!

Can Birds Eat Instant Oatmeal?

Instant oatmeal tends to be fine, but some options are better than others for a proper functioning diet. 

If you buy instant oatmeal that is high in sugars or additives, there are healthier options for your backyard birds. 

Other Options for Feeding Oats to Birds

Oats come in many forms: rolled oats, oat flakes, porridge oats, quick oats, and steel-cut oats.

There are so many options! And all of them are a fine option for birds! Just remember that these are all safe options when they are raw. It is cooked oats that create a problem for birds.

Are There Any Birds Who Shouldn’t Eat Oats?

Plenty of animals eat oats without any issues. Dogs and cats, cattle and horses, and poultry are just some of the animals that are often given oats as an essential part of their diet.

Birds whose primary diet is made up of grains and seeds are called granivorous birds

While not every bird will be drawn to eating oats because not all birds are granivorous, the ones who are can eat oats without an issue.

The only birds who can’t eat oats are the same ones who won’t show any interest in eating them as part of their staple diet!

What About Baby Birds? 

In the wild, baby birds eat the same food as their parents

When they are young, the baby bird will receive food directly from its adult parents. One or both of the adult birds will regurgitate food that they have already started to digest.

This ensures that the baby is capable of digesting the bird food on its own.

When they are old enough to eat oats, they will. And when they are too young, they won’t.

Can You Use Oatmeal for Suet? 

Can Birds Eat Oats

Although you can scatter raw, uncooked oatmeal on the ground or put it in a feeder (preferably one that is squirrel-proof!), try making suet cakes.

Suet is a cake or ball of rendered animal fat. Other healthy ingredients are often added to it, and it is an excellent food for birds who need extra calories and a source of energy.

For example, bird species that stick around in cold environments all year can get the extra energy they need from suet. 

Bird owners can buy pre-made suet to put into a suet feeder, or you can make your own! 

How to Make Oatmeal Suet

There are lots of recipes available for making homemade suet! Not all of them include oats, but several of our favorite suet recipes include tasty, nutritious oats. 

Mixing oats with fats is a great way to provide a healthy, high-calorie treat for your common backyard birds.

I recommend Birder’s Delight as a great starter recipe for suet.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 1 lb plain suet cut into small pieces
  • 1 c. yellow cornmeal
  • 1 c. rolled oats
  • 1 c. chunky peanut butter
  • 1 c. mixed wild bird seed
  • 1 c. hulled sunflower seed or chopped pecans

*You can always adjust these amounts to your own preferences, or based on what you have on hand.

To prepare this suet, you will first need to melt the suet on low.

After it is melted, stir in the solid ingredients until everything is mixed together. 

Let it cool a bit, but make sure it is still pourable. Then, pour it into any mold that works for you. You can use bowls, ice cream trays, or any other household item.

Refrigerate or freeze until the suet has solidified. 

Other Ways to Prepare Oats for Birdfeeding

In addition to making oatmeal-based suet, here are some other ways you can prepare oats for your backyard birds:

  • Spread raw oats of any kind on the ground where you want to feed the birds
  • Put raw oats in bird feeders
  • Mix raw oats with other birdfeed for a half-and-half option

What Foods Should I Avoid Feeding to Birds?

If oats are fine, what foods are NOT okay for birds?

Avoid feeding birds anything that could make them sick. That includes spoiled food, even if it was a previously healthy ingredient. Moldy food is bad for humans, and it’s bad for our lovely birds, too!

Bread, including oat bread, is not a nutritionally healthy option for birds. It can be provided as an occasional treat, though. 

Junk food, raw meat, honey, salt, and milk are a few more items you should avoid. Birds prefer whole foods that are high in macro and micronutrients. 

Keeping Your Backyard Birds Healthy with Supplemental Oats

Some people get intimidated by lists like this one because it can seem like there are a lot of rules. But I would never want anyone to be discouraged from becoming a backyard birder!

What I hope you’ll remember from this article is that there are plenty of ways to feed oats to birds—remember to use raw, uncooked oats of almost any variety instead of cooked oats.

The exception, of course, is when the oats are mixed with fats in the form of suet. 

Keep asking good questions about how to best take care of the birds in your backyard, and you will soon help foster a thriving population of backyard visitors!

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Liz Ranfeld

Liz Boltz Ranfeld is an independent educator and writer from Indiana. She lives on the edge of the woods with her husband, 2 kids, dogs, chickens, and hedgehog. One of the best things of living in rural Indiana is spotting hawks, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and other wild creatures. She enjoys hiking, canoeing, and gardening, and one of her personal heroes is the conservationist and birdwatcher Rosalie Barrow Edge, who paved the way for the protection of birds around the globe.