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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

How about feeding dog kibble to the birds?

Ever fed dog kibble to birds? Have you put kibble out at your feeders as a seed substitute, perhaps in the winter? 


Nutrition-wise, this is not a bad idea, particularly in the winter.


I asked this question to members of a professional ornithologist email list. I wanted confirmation of my experiences — Blue Jays will one-by-one carry kibble chunks away to cache for later use, working until the platter is cleansed.


But, how about smaller birds, assuming they could get a bite in edgewise?


Zoo nutritionists say that dog chow is well-balanced nutritionally, and has a more appropriate level of fat than cat chow, another, lesser, option. The trick is to find a brand that soaks ups liquid without turning to mush.


Recommended by one respondent was Eukanuba Small Breed Puppy food. It comes in small pellets, much like Grape Nuts breakfast cereal, perhaps making it more attractive to smaller birds, not that the jays would ignore it. It has good protein and fat content, again a winter consideration.


Another person was using starlings for a research projects. He said his birds were happy and fat on their dog chow diet. Generic brands did not work as well as the better-known major brands, I was told.


Use only good quality, high-protein brands, this person said. He mentioned that rabbit pellets also work. This was fed to pigeons and doves chosen for research, along with their regular corn and bird seed.


Ground sunflower seed has energy benefits for small birds

We’ve always filled our bird feeders with black oil sunflower seeds. Most of the time the seeds were in their shells. Watching chickadees one day, I wondered about the energy they used to pluck a seed from the feeder, then fly to a perch where they could hammer the shell open. Flight and hammering are energy-expensive efforts. 


So, I bought sunflower parts and pieces. The seeds still needed hammering to get to bite size. Next, 50 pounds of roughly ground sunflower seeds, pieces small enough for chickadees to eat without leaving the feeder. And they do. From the feeder perches they grab and swallow most of the time. 


The energy once spent on flight from feeder to perch, the energy used to hack seeds open and into bite-sized pieces became energy saved. That’s a good idea today. It will be a better idea come winter.


The other feeder birds — House Finches, goldfinches, nuthatches, blackbirds, grackles, and our three common woodpecker species — have no problem with smaller seed pieces. I imagine the smaller members of that list benefit as well. There is no shelling, no husking, those energy costs eliminated.


Husking — watch a goldfinch process a whole sunflower seed. Part of that process involves manipulation of the seed by the bird’s tongue to remove the husk. Ground seed has no husk.

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