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You may not have thought of scattering kernels in your yard as a nutritious treat for your feathered visitors, but popcorn can be a popular and safe food for many bird species, including Jays, Woodpeckers and Pigeons.
But you may be wondering if all types of popcorn are safe for birds, or should any varieties be avoided? We’ll be taking a closer look at the best and healthiest ways of serving popcorn to birds, so read on to discover more.
Popped and unpopped kernels are both eaten by a wide variety of birds and can be offered as an occasional, supplementary food. Smaller birds with less powerful beaks may cope better with pre-soaked kernels, although Jays and Woodpeckers will have no problem at all cracking hard kernels open.
Popped kernels offer the same nutritional benefits as unpopped corn. They contain fiber and are low in sugar. Some points to keep in mind are that store-bought pre-cooked popcorn and microwavable sachets are to be avoided, as they are high in salt, added sugar, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, butter and other preservatives that are not part of a bird’s natural diet and should not ever be fed.
To learn more about the all-important dos and don’ts for providing popcorn for your backyard birds to enjoy, just keep reading.
Pictured: An Eurasian Jay. Popped and unpopped kernels are both eaten by a wide variety of birds and can be offered as an occasional, supplementary food
Popcorn can be fed to birds as unpopped and popped kernels without losing nutritional value. Larger birds with more powerful bills, such as Crows, Woodpeckers, Jays, and Pigeons, will enjoy the challenge of cracking open a hard kernel. Many commercial seed mixes contain unopened corn kernels alongside other seeds and grains, so many birds may already be familiar with eating them.
Unpopped kernels are notoriously tough to crack, and smaller birds may find them too hard to break open and they may pose a choking hazard or cause digestive problems when swallowed whole. Therefore, it is often advised to soak kernels in water to soften them before feeding to birds, although larger birds with more powerful bills will be able to crack open unpopped kernels with no problem.
Popped corn is also readily eaten by many bird species, and can be offered whole or crumbled, but should never be fried in butter or oil, or have any sugar, salt, or flavoring added.
It’s important to remember that popcorn should only be offered to birds as an occasional treat. When birds become too reliant on less nutritious, but possibly tastier, foods, they may reject other healthier choices and miss out on the vital nutrients that they need.
By stocking up on the avian equivalent of junk food, they run the risk of being too full to eat anything more nutritious. So while popcorn can be offered, it should only be in moderation and not as a staple.
Pictured: White-crowned Sparrowmand a Chipping Sparrow. Many commercial seed mixes contain unopened corn kernels alongside other seeds and grains
When it comes to feeding birds, there are worse options out there than popcorn. As popcorn is relatively high in fiber and low in sugar, it is a fairly good choice as a treat every now and then. Popcorn contains carbohydrates, needed as a source of energy for birds, and small amounts of protein and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium.
As popcorn doesn’t contain enough of the vital proteins, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients required in a healthy avian diet, it is recommended that it is only offered as a supplementary snack with more nutritious nuts, seeds, and grains forming the majority of food on offer.
Pictured: Pigeons feeding on corn kernels
Some common birds that will readily feast on unpopped popcorn kernels include Crows, Jays, Woodpeckers, Pigeons, Quail, Turkeys and Gulls.
Soaked, softened kernels are safer for smaller birds, including American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, Chickadees, Nuthatches and Starlings. Waxwings, Grosbeaks and Mockingbirds are also known popcorn eaters.
Cracked corn is commercially available, allowing smaller birds to enjoy fragments of unpopped popcorn kernels without the associated risks of choking or not being able to crack them open themselves. Cardinals and Finches are known to enjoy small amounts of cracked corn at feeders and may be tempted by popped corn when available
Exotic birds known to enjoy popcorn as a treat include Parakeets, Cockatiels, and Parrots. Canaries and pet finches are both keen popcorn fans but cope better with smaller pieces rather than whole kernels.
It’s not recommended to feed unpopped popcorn to ducks as if they eat too much, it may cause serious digestive issues such as blockages in the esophagus and constipation.
Pictured: A Yellow Macaw. Exotic birds known to enjoy popcorn as a treat include Parakeets, Cockatiels, and Parrots
Before you head straight into your backyard with your leftover popcorn from a night at the movies, please make sure that what you are offering is safe and suitable and won’t cause them any harm. Microwave popcorn sachets or flavored popcorn should never be offered, as the additives, preservatives, and sugars will be harmful to birds and other wildlife that may visit your yard.
Plain, unseasoned popcorn popped in an air popper should be cooled before being left out on a table or platform feeder or scattered directly on the ground.
If you’re feeling creative, bird-friendly popcorn balls can be made, using air-popped popcorn, peanut butter, birdseed, cranberries, and honey. Alternatively, popped popcorn can be threaded onto strings and hung in the branches for finches and cardinals to investigate.
Clear away any old, leftover popcorn regularly and clean feeders and bird tables to avoid the spread of disease and stop bacteria from developing.
Bearing these guidelines in mind, there is no reason that you can’t safely share a suitably prepared popcorn snack with your backyard birds all year round.
Popcorn kernels with no visible signs of mold or damage can be fed to birds, but it’s not advised to feed any kind of old, or expired foods, as spoiled kernels could contain dangerous levels of fungus or be contaminated with other harmful bacteria.
Just as for humans, stale popcorn is probably not quite as appetizing for birds as crunchy freshly popped corn.
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