Wildlife expert reveals the two surprising things never to feed to birds – and what to give them instead

Knowing what not to feed wild birds will ensure they stay happy and healthy while visiting your backyard

What not to feed wild birds: Bird feeding mistakes, bird drinking water on a feeding table
(Image credit: Photo by John Borrelli on Unsplash)

Witnessing a familiar bird visit your backyard is one of life's little joys – so it is only natural to encourage these creatures to return by leaving tempting treats around our outdoor spaces. However, according to BBC Springwatch presenter Iolo Williams, some popular bird foods are actually causing more harm than good. 

With brighter days provoking more time in our gardens, the Welsh wildlife expert urges us to consider our bird food more carefully in a bid to promote biodiversity on our doorsteps and take care of our feathered friends. 

Working alongside the British-based homes and garden retailer Homebase, Iolo Williams suggests undertaking 'small changes' in our outdoor spaces so that, collectively, we can make 'a big impact and create a home for all creatures, big and small.' As avid-bird lovers, we're taking notes on everything he has to say about feeding birds in winter and more.  

What not to feed wild birds

What not to feed wild birds: Expert bird feeding mistakes, brown bird in a garden

(Image credit: Future / Allan Pollok-Morris)

Perhaps the most important but most surprising of Iolo's tips is his suggestion that we should never feed a bird bread, as this can be extremely harmful. 'It offers very little nutrition and can fill up a bird's stomach,' Iolo declares. 

Iolo continues, suggesting milk is equally as harmful and can 'can cause diarrhea and sickness' among garden birds. Instead, he suggests leaving some water, which is 'just as important as food for the birds and other wildlife.'

See: Eco-friendly garden ideas – expert tips on creating an eco-friendly backyard

What can birds eat?

What not to feed wild birds: Expert bird feeding mistakes, brown bird in a garden

(Image credit: Photo by Rotem Vazan on Unsplash)

Instead, the expert suggests leaving a 'variety of high energy foods, such as fat balls, peanuts, mixed seeds, and sunflower hearts.'

'Water is essential for birds to clean their feathers as well as to drink. A small garden pond is ideal, but a bowl of water or even an upturned bin lid will suffice. Water is also important for mammals such as hedgehogs,' Iolo adds.

As ever, everything you put out should offer them a balanced diet.

What scraps can I feed wild birds?

Don't put out raw vegetables – birds are not able to digest many of these kitchen scraps. However, you can put peas and sweetcorn out for them, as well as cooked potato, and some fruits, such as apples and pears – you may see birds snacking on fallen fruits in your garden naturally. 

Raw meat is also not something birds can eat, although they will eat meat fat – and they will enjoy cheese.

As ever, put bird food out of reach of cats and dogs and, of course, rats.

Can birds eat raisins?

Yes, birds can eat raisins, sultanas and currants, too, but it is a good idea to soak them in dry weather. A note here for dog and cat owners: dried fruits are amongst the food that birds enjoy but which can be harmful to your pets. Always check before you feed birds that you are not putting out something that will make your pet ill.

Can birds eat porridge oats?

Yes, birds can eat porridge oats, but they need to be dry – cooked (or wet) and they will stick to and set around birds' beaks. Birds can also enjoy other dry breakfast cereals, but, as with bread, these shouldn't be your first option because they will fill up birds' stomachs like bread does, and provide little nutrition in return.

How to attract birds to a garden

After revealing the two crucial things that birds need to avoid, Iolo highlighted another mistake that may be harming a bird's wellbeing in our garden. 

'Many people cut ivy from trees, believing that it kills its host. In fact, ivy is merely using the tree for support and is one of the most beneficial plants for wildlife. It is an evergreen and, as such, provides shelter for several species of birds, insects, and mammals throughout the year. Birds such as wood pigeons, blackbirds, and overwintering blackcap love ivy berries,' Iola warns. 

What not to feed wild birds: Expert bird feeding mistakes, blue bird in a garden

(Image credit: Photo by Cathy Holewinski on Unsplash)

See: Small garden ideas – maximize a compact gardening space

Iolo's advice comes after the UK charity Royal Society for the Protection of Birds revealed that the last year had seen more than half of Brits more aware of the nature around them. Therefore, creating a safe sanctuary for birds is more important than ever before. Following this, Louise Midgley from  Dobbies also suggests creating a shady shelter for birds to stay cool protected while in your garden. 

Armed with this expert advice, we look forward to welcoming these therapeutic creatures safely into our gardens throughout this spring and summer, and beyond.

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.