What Do Little Birds Eat? (Feeding Tips & What to Avoid)

When it comes to the diet of little birds, understanding what they eat is essential for their growth and overall health. Birds’ dietary needs vary depending on their species and age, making it crucial for bird enthusiasts or rescuers to be well-informed about appropriate food sources. Generally, baby birds consume a diet rich in insects that provide much-needed protein for their development. For 12 to 14 hours per day, these young birds eat off and on to sustain their rapid growth.

As different species of birds have unique dietary requirements, it is important to provide a variety of safe food sources, especially when caring for backyard birds. Some birds may prefer sunflower seeds, while others will relish fruits, vegetables, or mealworms. Be mindful of potential hazards, such as providing unhealthy human foods or stale bird feed, which can harm their delicate systems.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding little birds’ dietary needs is essential for their growth and overall health.
  • Offering a variety of safe food sources caters to different bird species’ unique needs, ensuring a balanced diet.
  • Be cautious of potential hazards and unhealthy human foods when feeding backyard birds, and seek professional help if unsure about a bird’s nutritional requirements.

General Diet of Little Birds

Seeds and Grains

Little birds often enjoy eating various types of seeds and grains. Small seeds like millet are favored by house sparrows, dunnocks, finches, reed buntings, and collared doves. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are ideal for tits and greenfinches too. Birds often find pinhead oatmeal to be an excellent snack, and these small seeds can attract a wide variety of bird species.

Read Next: What Do Hummingbirds Eat?

Insects and Worms

Insects and worms form a vital part of a bird’s diet. Many little birds, such as robins and wrens, rely on insects for a significant portion of their nutrition. Earthworms, caterpillars, and various insect larvae help provide the protein and nutrients that birds require for growth and reproduction. For young birds, insects prove to be crucial, as they offer the energy needed for proper development.

Fruits and Nuts

Fruits and nuts are also an essential part of a little bird’s diet. Orioles, waxwings, and toucans are known to be frugivorous birds, which means they primarily consume fruit, berries, and even fruit-flavored jelly. Other birds like thrushes, grouse, quail, jays, wrens, tanagers, as well as some finches and sparrows, are known to enjoy fruits too. Nuts such as peanuts provide good nutrition for birds like tits and greenfinches. Fruits and nuts can offer dietary variety, ensuring that birds maintain good health and sufficient energy levels.

Nutritional Needs and Variety

Little birds have specific nutritional requirements to thrive and grow healthy. Their diet should consist of a combination of proteins, fats, calcium, and other essential nutrients. Providing a variety of food sources will help meet these dietary needs and create a balanced meal plan for the young birds.


Proteins are crucial in a little bird’s diet, as they help with growth and muscle development. Foods that are rich in protein include moist dog food and raw liver, which can cater to their protein needs. However, it’s important to avoid seasoning the liver to ensure that the food remains safe for the birds to consume.


Birds also need a good amount of fats in their diet, as it provides them with energy and helps them stay warm. Seeds are a great source of fats, allowing the birds to store energy for their growth and daily activities. To ensure that seed-eating birds can access these essential fats, provide seeds with various hard shells, as their beaks are perfectly designed for crushing these shells.


Calcium is another essential component of a little bird’s diet, as it aids in bone development and overall growth. Offering foods that are high in calcium will help fortify their skeletal structure and support their maturing bodies. Hard-boiled eggs and moistened dog biscuits can provide a substantial amount of calcium and other vital nutrients.

Vitamins and Minerals

It’s also important to include vegetables and fruits in their diet, as these are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, mango, papaya, and cantaloupe are all excellent options that contain high amounts of vitamin A, which is necessary for a bird’s overall health.

Incorporating a wide variety of food sources into a little bird’s diet will help ensure that they receive optimal nutrition for their growth and development. By offering them an assortment of proteins, fats, calcium-rich foods, and fruits and vegetables, you can contribute to their well-being and help them thrive in their environment. Remember to cater to their specific needs and adjust their diet as they grow and mature.

Special Diets for Specific Species


Hummingbirds have a unique diet, as they primarily consume nectar from flowers. They also eat small insects and spiders for protein. Their high metabolism requires them to feed frequently throughout the day.


Favoring insects, bluebirds enjoy bugs and creepy-crawlies like crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, ants, spiders, snails, and earthworms. They’ll eat mealworms at the bird feeder, as well as suet. You will also see them eat wild berries like holly, or even blueberries.

They may also occasionally eat seeds like sunflower and safflower seeds, though that’s not what they prefer.


Granivorous birds for the most part, sparrows eat mainly grains and seeds, including livestock feed. You’ll find sparrows munching anything from cracked corn, oats, and thistle seeds, to crabgrass, millet, and peanuts. However, they’ll also consume insects, fruits, berries, and sometimes human food.


Chickadees are known to eat various foods including seeds, insects, fruits, and carrion. They’ll catch caterpillars and nibble berries in the summer, and eat more insect eggs and seeds in the winter. Considering that they’ll also feed from the fat of dead animals, you can expect to get chickadees at your suet feeder.


These little birds eat insects and seeds, though they also like treats like suet and peanut butter. Nuthatches can be found searching for bugs like ants, beetles, spiders, and caterpillars in the bark of trees, and will also gobble up butterflies. They may also enjoy acorns, hickory nuts, sunflower seeds, and some fruits, depending on the season and scarcity of their preferred meals, insects.


Wrens are insectivores, meaning they predominantly eat insects and spiders. Their diet consists of various small insects such as ants, caterpillars, and beetles. The occasional fruit or seed may also be consumed.


Finches primarily consume seeds, but their diet can vary depending on the species. Some finches also eat insects and fruits for additional nutrition. They are typically ground feeders, often foraging for seeds from plants and grasses.


Kinglets are mostly interested in insects, worms and various invertebrates for their meals. But they’ll also eat berries, suet, and seeds at feeders, particularly in the winter. Occasionally, you may see kinglets like the ruby-crowned kinglet feeding on tree sap.


Another insect lover, this small bird eats beetles, caterpillars, wasps, spiders, aphids, gnats, moths, mosquitoes, and other bugs. Seeds may not be very appealing to most warblers, although they may come to a suet feeder, particularly if it has mealworms in it. However, the pine warbler is known to eat seeds like sunflower seeds and peanuts, as well as grains like millet and corn.

Human Foods Birds Can Consume


Little birds can safely enjoy a variety of human foods if provided the right way. In particular, fruits like apples and bananas are great additions to their diets. When offering apples, make sure to remove the seeds and core, as they can contain harmful substances for birds. Bananas can be served in small pieces, with the peel removed.


Vegetables are also an excellent choice for birds. Leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, can be chopped finely and mixed with other fruits and veggies to create a nutritious salad. Root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes can be grated or boiled and mashed for easier consumption. Avoid offering high-fat or high-sodium foods, as they are not suitable for birds.

Beans and Pulses

Beans and lentils make excellent protein sources for birds. However, they should be cooked thoroughly before feeding to eliminate any harmful substances they may contain when raw. To prepare beans and lentils for birds, simply boil them until tender, rinse well to remove any excess salt or seasoning, and allow them to cool before serving.

Providing a varied diet will not only keep your feathered friends healthy but also keep them entertained. By incorporating a selection of fruits, vegetables, and legumes into your birds’ meals, you can ensure they receive the nutrients they need while also giving them the opportunity to explore new tastes and textures.

Human Foods to Avoid

When it comes to feeding little birds, it’s essential to keep their well-being and safety in mind. While some human foods might seem harmless or beneficial, certain items should be avoided. Let’s take a closer look at some common human foods that are unsafe for little birds to consume.


Avocado is a popular and nutritious fruit for humans; however, it can be dangerous for birds. This is because avocados contain a toxin called persin, which can cause respiratory distress, heart failure, and even death in birds. Therefore, it’s best to keep avocados off the menu for our feathered friends.


Cheese and other dairy products may seem like a delightful treat for birds, but they’re actually harmful. Birds lack the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for breaking down lactose in dairy products. Consuming cheese or other dairy can lead to gastrointestinal upset and other digestive issues in birds. It’s better to avoid offering these items altogether.

Barley and Rice

Barley and rice, especially when raw or uncooked, can pose potential risks to little birds. Raw or undercooked grains can expand in a bird’s stomach, causing discomfort and potentially dangerous internal blockages. Cooked rice might be a safer option for birds, but it’s crucial to make sure it’s thoroughly cooked and cooled before offering it to them.


In addition to these specific foods, it’s important to be cautious with any human foods offered to birds, particularly those containing high levels of salt, sugar, or additives. Stick to safe options like seeds, fruits, and vegetables suitable for birds, and always consult reputable sources or an avian veterinarian if unsure about a particular food item. Remember, a healthy bird diet is key to ensuring their long-term health and happiness.

Backyard Bird Feeding

Feeding little birds in your garden can be a delightful and rewarding experience, as well as an essential support for the local wild bird population. A well-rounded bird feed is essential for attracting and nourishing different types of birds. Several essential food items for little birds include mealworms, suet, oats, and ants. These items cater to the various nutritional needs and preferences of different backyard birds.

Offer Mealworms

Mealworms, for instance, provide an excellent protein source, which is vital for the growth and development of birds, such as house sparrows. Putting out mealworms in your bird feeders can help support their population and attract other insectivorous birds to your garden.

Make (or Buy) Suet

Suet is another essential food item for your backyard birds. Suet is a high-energy, fat-rich food that appeals to woodpeckers and other birds with high-energy requirements. Offering suet cakes or balls in your garden can create an attractive buffet for these lively birds.

Add in Oats

Oats are an ideal carbohydrate source for wild birds and work exceptionally well when mixed to create balanced bird feed. Blending a variety of oats, seeds, and nuts, can cater to species such as sparrows, and even goldfinches. Don’t forget to use bird feeders that cater to the feeding habits of different bird species to make the most out of your bird feed.

Let Little Birds Gobble Up the Ants in Your Garden

Insects like ants are critical in the diet of some wild birds, especially during the nesting and breeding season. Providing a natural environment in your garden that encourages the presence of these insects can be a fantastic way to attract birds such as sparrows and woodpeckers.

Feeding Baby Birds

Determining the Age

To properly care for a baby bird, you must first determine its age. Assessing its physical features can help identify the bird’s stage of development. For instance, hatchlings are typically bald or have few feathers, while fledglings are more developed, with most of their feathers grown in. Recognizing the bird’s age is essential for understanding how to care for it properly.

Proper Care and Feeding

A baby bird’s diet largely depends on its species. Many species thrive on a diet rich in insects, providing the protein necessary for healthy growth. Some birds, like the American goldfinch, need mashed-up seeds, while others, such as the cedar waxwing, consume fruits as part of their diet.

It’s essential to feed baby birds at appropriate intervals. For many species, this means feeding them every 12 to 14 hours. You can provide mealworms to your feeder as a protein source for baby birds. Alternatively, a blend of peanut butter and cornmeal can also be a suitable warm-weather alternative.

When to Intervene and When to Leave Alone

When encountering a baby bird, consider whether intervention is necessary or not. If the bird appears injured, lost, or orphaned, contacting a licensed bird rehabilitator may be the best course of action. Note that humans should not attempt to care for the bird without proper guidance, as this could cause more harm than good.

On the other hand, if the baby bird is fledgling and appears healthy and capable, it’s best to leave it alone. Fledglings are often found on the ground learning to fly. At this stage, their parents are likely still in the vicinity, monitoring their progress and feeding them when necessary. To avoid unintentionally causing harm, avoid disturbing the nest or removing the baby bird from its natural environment.

By following these guidelines, you can confidently contribute to the proper care and feeding of baby birds, ensuring their safe and healthy development.

Potential Hazards

Little birds face various challenges in their daily lives, which may pose potential hazards to their health and well-being. These hazards include predators, abandonment, injury, and stress.


Predators are a primary concern for little birds, as they are often vulnerable to larger animals such as cats, hawks, and snakes. To minimize the risk of predation, it’s essential to provide adequate shelter and hiding spots in your yard for these tiny creatures. Be extra cautious when placing bird feeders or nesting boxes, as these may inadvertently attract unwanted visitors looking for an easy meal.


Abandonment is also a serious issue for little birds, particularly hatchlings and fledglings. Birds that fall out of their nest or are separated from their parents may struggle to survive on their own. If you come across a baby bird in need of assistance, it’s best to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator for advice on what to do next. Feeding an abandoned bird can be tricky, as they may require different diets based on their species and age. Emergency foods like seeds and mealworms can be helpful, but it’s always best to consult a professional first.


Injury is another threat little birds face, with accidents occurring in a variety of ways. Some injuries are caused by human-made structures, like windows, which birds may collide with, leading to broken bones or even death. Additionally, glue traps set out for rodents and insects can inadvertently harm small birds that become entangled, leading to severe injury or death. To lower the risk of injury, avoid using glue traps or similar devices in your yard and consider installing bird-friendly window treatments to reduce collisions.


Finally, stress can significantly impact the health of little birds. They can become stressed from a range of factors, including habitat loss, competition for resources, and exposure to pollutants. To create a less stressful environment for these winged friends, practice responsible bird-feeding habits and maintain a clean and safe yard. Offering a diverse range of foods and ensuring cleanliness can help minimize the spread of illnesses, as seen with the conjunctivitis outbreak among house finches and goldfinches.

By being aware of these potential hazards and taking the appropriate steps to minimize risks, you can create a safer environment for the little birds inhabiting your yard.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you come across a baby bird that is in need of help, it’s essential to know when to seek assistance from a professional, such as a licensed rehabilitator. It is important not to attempt to care for the bird yourself without proper guidance, as some situations can be quite tricky.

When handling the bird, gently wrap it in a towel to avoid injury, and keep it in a warm, dark, and quiet place. You can use a heat lamp to maintain an appropriate temperature, but always make sure there’s a cooler area available for the bird to move to if it gets too warm.

If the baby bird appears injured or sick, reaching out to a licensed rehabilitator or veterinarian should be your top priority. They have the expertise to deal with such situations and treat the bird accordingly. Keep in mind that some birds are protected by law, and only licensed professionals are allowed to handle and care for them.

In some cases, you may be advised to feed the bird temporarily. You will need specific tools like a syringe or tweezers, and proper guidance on what food to provide and how often. Remember that feeding a baby bird is a delicate process, and an incorrect technique or diet may cause harm.

Overall, it’s essential to prioritize the bird’s safety and well-being by seeking professional help when unsure or unable to provide the necessary care. This will increase its chances of survival and allow it to thrive in its natural habitat.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I feed a small bird?

Small birds can be fed a variety of foods, depending on their species and dietary requirements. Some common foods for small birds include sunflower hearts, peanut granules, and fruits. Insects, such as caterpillars and mealworms, are also an option for insectivorous species.

What is a small bird’s favorite food?

A small bird’s favorite food will depend on its species, diet, and individual preferences. Seed-eating birds typically enjoy seeds like sunflower hearts, while insectivorous birds prefer live insects such as caterpillars and mealworms. Fruit-eating birds may have a preference for certain fruits, depending on their natural habitat and the availability of these fruits in the wild.

What should I feed to abandoned baby birds?

If you find an abandoned baby bird, it’s important to ensure it receives proper nutrition. Some foods suitable for baby birds include hard-cooked eggs, cat kibble, and dog food. However, it’s best to consult with a local wildlife rescue or rehabilitation center for guidance on caring for the specific species of baby bird you’ve found.

What kind of seeds do young birds eat?

Young seed-eating birds usually consume a mix of small seeds appropriate for their species. This can include sunflower hearts, millet, and nyjer seeds. It’s important to research the specific dietary needs of the bird species to ensure you’re providing the right types of seeds.

How often do baby birds need to consume food?

Baby birds need to consume food frequently to support their rapid growth and development. They usually require feeding every 15-20 minutes from sunrise to sunset, depending on their age and species. As they grow older and closer to fledging, the frequency of feedings may decrease.

Do young birds need water in their diet?

Yes, young birds need water in their diet to stay hydrated and maintain proper bodily functions. However, baby birds should not be given water directly, as they may aspirate it and develop health issues. Instead, hydration is often provided through the moisture content in their food. As birds grow and fledge, they will gradually learn to drink water independently.

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