potato chips to a bird feeder

14 Common Foods You Should Never Put in Bird Feeders

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Feeding birds the wrong food might make them sick or worse. My guide will ensure you remain a responsible birder and don’t accidentally harm your local birding population with a surprise recipe.

In an age of clickbait and viral trends, some people irresponsibly feed animals food they don’t usually eat for views. Other birders are just misinformed and think they can harmlessly share food from their fridge with wild animals.

Although wild birds share many of our dietary staples, some foods make them sick or simply don’t give them any nutrition.

Below are 14 common (and less common) foods you should never put in bird feeders. Some of these you’ll no doubt already know, while others you may be using as bird feed right now!

Key Takeaways

  • The most common harmful foods given to birds are potato chips, salted or roasted nuts, and granola. Their sodium, oil, and caffeine content can make them ill or even poison them.
  • While birds often eat fruit, several fruit pits and fruit seeds can make them choke. It’s better to buy fruit from a reputable bird feed brand instead of digging in your pantry or fridge.
  • Onions, garlic, honey, cheese, dry beans, xylitol, chocolate, dairy items, and anything with alcohol (such as fermented fruit) are other staples birds can’t eat. A commonly used harmful food are chunks of bread, which have been falling out of favor as a type of bird feed.

Potato Chips

potato chips to a bird feeder
Image Credit: Midjourney.

This delicious staple may seem harmless since they’re made out of potatoes, but they’re one of the worst things you can feed a bird. Many potato chip brands are loaded with fats, oils, and/or spices that could make birds very sick.

Even if you feed a bird plain potato chips, the high salt content could potentially kill them. This outcome is due to birds having a faster metabolism than we do, meaning even a small amount of salt goes through their system quickly.

Salty food easily dehydrates birds and can even mess up their organ function, such as their kidneys.

The next item on this list is also high in sodium (as well as a few other incompatible ingredients).

Salted Nuts or Roasted Nut Bags

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) adult
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

Another common food people mistake for birds are bags of nuts. These snacks may seem like an easy source of bird feed at your local grocery store, but they’re often covered in sugar and salt — two forms of bad news.

Similar to potato chips, salted nuts are simply too high in sodium for a wild bird’s fragile system. Excess sugar also damages their system since it increases the chance of gastrointestinal issues, such as difficulty digesting or passing stool.

Roasted nuts are also a no-no for your bird feeder since they’ve been modified from their original form. It’s very common for manufacturers to add some sort of oil or flavoring in the roasting process, so you can’t trust the nuts are still safe for birds to eat.

I also have to mention the importance of using bird-safe peanut butter from a bird feed brand. This food is a huge treat for birds, particularly when they want to store up some fat during winter.

Just steer clear of your pantry. Many peanut butter jars today have high amounts of oil or added sugar, so your favorite sandwich stuffer should be kept off your birdfeeding list.

Speaking of buying from reputable brands…

Fruit Pits, Seeds, or Modified Fruit

Three Birds Feeding in Early Spring
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

Many wild birds love eating fruit, but that doesn’t mean you can put any fruit in your feeder! Fruit pits and fruit seeds not only provide little nutritional value, they’re easy for them to choke on.

Some of the most deadly fruit pits and fruit seeds for a wild bird are:

  • Cherry pits
  • Apricot pits
  • Apple seeds
  • Plum seeds
  • Orange seeds

On the other hand, fruit that is perfectly safe for a bird to eat include:

  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Grapefruit
  • Fresh apple slices (just no seeds!)

Some birders also attempt to feed wild birds with canned fruit or bags of dried fruit, which could be harmful due to added syrup and sugars. Even a sugar-free can may still be too sweet for a bird, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

When in doubt? Only give them fruit approved by a (you guessed it) bird feed brand – they’ll only choose safe fruits and will even pair them with other foods for a well-rounded meal.

The next option on this list you’ll never find from a bird brand, but is still worth discussing for its severity.


Sparrow sits on a woman's hand with a piece of chocolate
Image Credit: Midjourney.

Fun fact: chocolate is actually quite healthy when it’s not filled with a bunch of fat and sugar. Not-so-fun-fact: it’s still bad for birds and can make them severely ill.

A 2007 report sadly found a beloved male kea accidentally eating dark chocolate and dying from toxicity. It was the first account of a parrot dying of this particular kind of food toxicity and a big warning on what could happen if you put the wrong food in your feeding station.

Chocolate is toxic to birds not only for its added fat content but its caffeine – yes, chocolate has caffeine! This overall chemical makeup impacts their nervous system and brain function and eventually poisons them.

While you may already know not to feed chocolate to birds, this next section on the list could be surprising.

Chunks of Bread

Bird feeder suspended on a tree branch with green leaves, close-up of bread feeders with sunlight in the sun.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

The romantic image of tossing bread crusts to swimming ducks is undergoing a serious makeover. More and more information is coming out about the downside of feeding bread chunks to wild birds.

The main reasons for this food being harmful are the lack of nutritional value and how it impacts the bird’s ability to feel hunger. First and foremost: most bread brands don’t offer much in the way of vitamins or minerals.

Since each bird species has a highly specialized diet, a chunk of low-calorie and low-vitamin bread simply won’t meet their needs.

Likewise, bread is often spongey and can expand temporarily in the stomach before being digested. A bird with a swollen stomach full of cheap bread won’t realize they still need to eat food, increasing the risk of becoming malnourished.

Whether ducks regularly visit your backyard or a flurry of finches, keep bread inside the house. The next one on this list is also a very common mistake and one you don’t want to make.

Granola Bars

Bird food
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

A granola bar may be the ultimate meal when you’re low on time and need to rush out the door, but they’re not healthy for birds. This food is very easy to mistake for safe since it’s often touted as healthy or all-natural.

How can grains and nuts possibly be bad? Similar to the other items on this list, granola bars are often mixed with all sorts of harmful chemicals, flavorings, or sweeteners like:

  • Chocolate
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Artificial flavoring
  • Roasted elements

When you consider some granola bars have all of the above, the end result of putting one of these in a feeder could cause many sick birds.

The next item on the list is often found in granola bars and bags of nuts, but you may think it’s one of the safest bird foods around.


Cute little hummingbird flying at nectar feeder.
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

“Wait, how can honey be bad for birds?”, you might be asking. It’s an all-natural sweetener that comes from beehives, so certainly, it’s not toxic or lacking in nutrients.

Sadly, honey is simply too sugary for a bird’s delicate constitution. Similar to sugary granola bars or sugary canned fruit, honey can impact a bird’s ability to digest food or pass stool.

Some birders have the misconception that honey can be put inside or near hummingbird feeders, too. Hummingbirds should only be given clean water with a plain white sugar mixture to mimic their favorite native plants — nothing else!

Another side-effect of honey’s high sugar content is how it impacts blood sugar and metabolism. Such a large amount of sugar can make their hearts beat too fast or cause a snowball of problems.

A lesser-known downside to feeding birds honey is how sticky it is. If they get too much on their feathers, they may have a hard time removing it and can struggle to fly again.

Cheese (or Any Dairy Item)

There’s nothing like a chunk of salty cheese to perk up your mood. Just don’t share it with birds, as they’re overwhelmingly lactose intolerant.

adding slices of cheese to a bird feeder
Image Credit: Midjourney.

As someone who has a mild lactose intolerance herself, I can relate big time to this section of the list. Birds don’t have the lactase enzyme in their body, the digestive protein that helps the body break down lactose for digestion.

While humans with lactose intolerance may get bloated or gassy after eating a dairy product, birds can become severely ill or die.

Any dairy item is a no-go – cheese, yogurt, products with cheese dust on them, you name it. The next item on the list will seem surprising compared to dairy, but it can be just as problematic.

Dry Beans

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) hand fed with hazelnuts
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

Humans can’t eat dry, uncooked beans since they contain a compound called lectin. All beans have this compound, so cooking them thoroughly is essential to make them safe for consumption.

Failing to fully cook beans can lead to all sorts of painful complications like diarrhea or vomiting. As it stands, birds also can’t eat dry or undercooked beans – unlike us, they can’t just swing by the hospital if they accidentally do.

It’s best to steer clear of beans entirely since they’re not a staple food for birds of any form, anyway.

Let’s take a look at a few more kitchen staples to make sure your bird feeder is as safe and healthy as possible.


woman's hand adding onions to a bird feeder
Image Credit: Midjourney.

Savory and delicious, onions seem like a no-brainer when supplementing food…just keep them away from your feeder! Their high acidity content and trace amounts of sulfur are one of the deadliest kitchen staples for bird populations.

If you’ve ever had a stomach problem that makes you sensitive to acidic food, you’ll already follow the logic here. Since birds have much smaller digestive systems than we do, just a little acidity can be enough to rupture their stomach lining and cause internal bleeding.

In the most severe cases, they can experience forms of anemia that are similar to other animal species after eating onions.

The next item on the list is similar to garlic in structure and has many of the same side effects. Even worse, it can easily be found in common foods like potato chips and bags of nuts.


close-up of a woman's hand adding small cloves of garlic to a bird feeder
Image Credit: Midjourney.

While garlic may be a beloved addition for people, it’s an acidic ticking time bomb for birds. This kitchen staple also damages the intestinal tract of birds and can cause all sorts of painful problems.

Whether it’s fresh or cooked, garlic needs to stay out of your bird feeder. While you may come across some posts stating a very small amount of garlic is safe for a bird, is this a risk you want to take?

At best, your wild bird friends may fly off no worse for the wear. At worst, they could pass away a few days later from stomach problems or anemia.

Let’s take a look at the last few on the list, one of which also has a few misconceptions.


sparrow near half a ripe avocado
Image Credit: Midjourney.

There are quite a few misconceptions about avocado for birds, with some birders thinking it’s safe since an avocado is technically a berry. However, this fruit is one of the most dangerous additions to a bird feeder on the list.

Did you know avocados have a toxin present throughout the entire fruit? Everything from the flesh to the skin contains persin, a toxic substance that some animals are poisoned by.

Even a tiny amount of avocado can be enough to poison a bird, similar to the item next on our list.

Xylitol or Any Artificial Sweetener

If you think sugar alternatives can fill the gap left by honey or white sugar, think again. Artificial sweeteners are incredibly dangerous for birds, particularly pantry staple xylitol.

Xylitol may be a natural sweetener found in everyday foods like oats and corn, but it’s still too strong for a bird’s constitution. Attempting to eat this can throw off the bird’s metabolism similar to sugar, affecting everything from their heart to their digestive system.

If you’re wondering about stevia – an increasingly popular artificial sweetener made from the stevia plant – it’s best to steer clear. Information on this sweetener is still pretty limited when it comes to birds and you don’t want to take the chance you could accidentally poison them.

It’s time to round out the list with an item that seems obvious, but is actually pretty tricky to spot!


man's hand pouring beer into a bird feeder
Image Credit: Midjourney.

This last item may seem like a no-brainer. Why would you feed wild birds a shot of vodka or a can of beer?

The thing is, alcohol can crop up in surprising places if you neglect your bird feeder. To understand how this works, it’s time to dive into some science – don’t worry, I’ll keep it simple.

Alcohol forms through a process called fermentation. When certain foods are left out for a long time, bacteria can start to form on the surface – if any yeast lands on this surface, they eat the bacteria.

Some foods ferment very easily, like ripe bananas or juicy berries.

The side-effect of this biological phenomenon is yeast transforming bacteria into alcohol. If you leave any fruit in your feeder too long – especially in warm weather – you could accidentally make your wild birds drunk.

Taking Good Care of Your Birds Starts With Awareness

Phew, that’s a lot of foods birds can’t eat! In an age of misinformation, it’s essential to always do some research into your feathered friends and never be afraid to ask questions.

The best food source for your native bird populations will come from a reputable bird supply store – seeds, fruit, mealworms, peanut butter, the works. There are also a few perfectly safe pantry staples, such as apple slices or blueberries.

Just make sure these fruits are entirely raw with no added sweeteners or flavoring. Don’t leave them out too long, either, or they can start to ferment or grow mold.

What else can you learn about feeding birds safely? These articles will educate you further:

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