For humans, there are a lot of reasons to label oatmeal as a superfood.
It’s a great source of steady energy. It’s loaded with fiber and essential fatty acids. It is said to be good for your heart, and it fills you up by activating a satiety (satisfaction) hormone called cholecystokinin.
Raw oatmeal can be part of a healthy diet for birds, too. It is the same size as many of the other seeds most songbirds eat.
Steel-cut oats that haven’t been cooked, scientists have found, help birds build up the enzymes that release iron, magnesium, calcium, and other minerals from high-fiber seeds.
Blackbirds, blue jays, and cardinals will greedily eat oats you scatter directly on your lawn.
But before you go out and buy a 50-pound bag of oats to stock your bird feeder, you need to know a few more things about oats in particular and seed feeding in particular for keeping songbirds healthy and happy in your backyard.
We’ll start with the one rule you absolutely must remember about giving birds oats.
Cooked Oats Is Never Good for Birds
Uncooked oats are a great food for birds, but cooked oatmeal isn’t.
If you were to put out a bowl of porridge for hungry birds, one of the first things you would notice is birds flying around with globs of oatmeal stuck to their beaks.
Birds can get cooked oatmeal stuck on their nares, the equivalent of nostrils in humans.
This interferes with their ability to smell food and nearby predators, and it can also make breathing more difficult.
A more important consideration is how cooked oats affect a bird’s digestive tract.
When birds swallow food, it does not go directly into their stomachs.
Instead, it lands in their crop. This is a pouch where mechanical action breaks up seeds, nut kernels, worms, insects, and other food items into tiny pieces that the bird can digest.
You may sometimes see birds swallowing pebbles and small rocks. That’s so they can grind up the hard seeds and nuts in the bird’s crop. The bird spits out the rocks later.
Cooked oatmeal is smooth and creamy. It coats the other food in the bird’s crop, so it does not break down. This keeps the bird from digesting its food.
Oatmeal porridge gets digested eventually, but, as the scientific article we posted above showed, it takes a very, very long time. Most of the food a bird eats gets digested and turned into energy and nutrients in just two hours.
In the study, it was noticed that digesting oatmeal took 52 hours. That’s two full days that the bird’s digestive tract had limited capacity for extracting nutrients from food.
Birds can be at the brink of starvation in just 24 hours. Giving birds cooked oatmeal can make them weaker, not stronger.
Also read: Can Birds Eat Popcorn?
Birds Need More Foods Than Just Oats
Another thing to remember about feeding birds oats is that they need more food than just oats.
If you want to be kind to wild birds, and you want them to visit your backyard, and all you have is some uncooked oatmeal, no problem!
The birds will find the other foods they need for a balanced diet. You are just making their search for food easier.
But if you have a bird in a cage, you definitely need to offer more foods than just oats (or any one kind of seed, or just seed, for that matter).
Like other grains, oats are deficient in the amino acid lysine.
Birds (and other animals, including humans) need this essential amino acid for absorbing calcium to make healthy bones.
It is also important for producing collagen, which holds the skin, tendons, sinews, and even the bones together. This vital amino acid plays a role in regulating the immune system.
In the wild, birds get their lysine by eating seeds of plants in the legume family,, or by eating insects or small animals.
Even birds that only seek seeds for food get some lysine from the tiny mites and weevils that attach themselves to seeds.
Does that mean that oatmeal that sat on the shelf so long that it got bugs would make a good treat for birds?
Don’t throw out grains that get weevils. Put them out for the birds!
Also read: How to Make Homemade Bird Food?
How to Feed Oats to Birds
It is easy to put out uncooked oats for feeding birds. (Cooked oats, on the other hand, would get messy.)
You can scatter it on the ground. You can sprinkle it on top of a platform feeder.
You can mix it in with the birdseed you feed birds from a hanging bird feeder.
You can also mix raw oats with other foods you serve birds in oatmeal balls and oatmeal cookies.
Or you can serve birds raw oatmeal with suet cakes.
Since adding oatmeal to suet cakes is the easiest way to serve oatmeal to birds, we will start with that method first.
Oatmeal with Suet Cakes
Suet cakes give birds the long-lasting energy they need to get ready for migration in the fall.
They help birds that stay over the winter keep warm. And they are great supplements for birds that ordinarily feed on bugs any time of year.
Offering both oats and suet cakes gives birds quick energy from oats and long-lasting energy from suet.
Just take the suet cake out of its wrapper and place it in a cage feeder.
The cage feeder is a wire box you can hang from a limb or the hook of a feeding stand.
Then position a feeding tray beneath the cage feeder so birds can get both suet and oats in just one stop.
Hang a suet cake over a tray feeder holding a dusting of raw oatmeal to attract these species of birds.
- Cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, juncos, chickadees, siskins, titmice, nuthatches, and sparrows enjoy the combination of oats in the tray feeder and suet laced with peanuts and pecan pieces. One product to hang from the suet feeder is the Wildlife Sciences Woodpecker Suet Pack. Despite its name, this product appeals to many different kinds of birds.
- Goldfinches, purple finches, tanagers, chickadees, cardinals, and titmice thrive on a combination of oats, suet, and berries. Give them a platform feeder covered with a thin layer of raw oats and a suet feeder stocked with a product like Very Berry Suet Cake. It comes in a packet with 16 suet cakes.
- Looking to attract kinglets, thrushes, warblers, and wrens, as well as purple finches, goldfinches, woodpeckers, blue jays, cardinals, and tanagers? Go with Peanut Crunch Suet Cake, hung in a cage feeder over a platform feeder with oats.
Most clinging and perching birds love the combination of oats and suet.
There are dozens of commercial suet-and-seed combinations you can use to supplement your platform feeder for oats.
Or you can make your own suet-oat balls.
Suet-Oat Balls for Birds
Winter is the perfect time for making oatmeal balls for birds. Oatmeal balls hold seeds together with fat, either lard or suet.
Animal fat gives birds the steady energy they need to stay warm and to fly long distances to find scarce food.
To make oatmeal balls, you will need:
- 2 cups (160 grams) of oats. You can substitute birdseed, nut pieces, dried fruit, dried berries, or peanuts for half of the oats.
- 8 ounces (225 grams) of suet
Place the suet in a saucepan. Heat the suet in the saucepan over low heat until it becomes runny.
Stir in the oats (and seeds, nuts, and fruit, if desired) until thoroughly mixed. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, and then transfer it to the refrigerator for one hour.
Make small balls of suet, oats, and other ingredients. About 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter works best.
When you are ready to feed the birds, hang the balls of suet and oats from mesh bags suspended from a tree limb, or place them inside a cage feeder hung over a platform feeder.
Oatmeal Cookies for Birds
One of the most common nutritional deficiencies in songbirds is in the early spring.
Birds need vitamin A for healthy feathers. They get their vitamin A directly from the fat in insects, worms, and creepy crawlies they eat, or they can make it from beta-carotene in berries and fruit.
By early spring, last year’s fruit and berries are depleted, and insects may not be active, so birds benefit from supplemental beta-carotene to stay healthy.
This recipe gets beta-carotene from butternut squash.
But you don’t have to cook a butternut squash to make these cookies. You can use baby food butternut squash instead.
To make these highly nutritious oatmeal cookies for birds, you will need the following:
- 1 cup (80 grams) of uncooked oats
- 3 cups (330 grams) of coconut flour
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
- 1 cup (8 ounces, 259 grams, or two snack cups) of unsweetened applesauce
- 1 jar of baby food acorn squash
- 1 jar of baby food ban\nasa
- 1-1.3 cups (320 ml) water
- Finely chopped walnuts, as desired
Mix the flour, oats, and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl.
If you plan to share the cookies with your birds, this is the step you could add powdered ginger or powdered cinnamon to taste. These spices are OK for birds.
In a separate large mixing bowl, mix the egg, baby food acorn squash, and baby food banana together. Stir in the dry ingredients, water, and nuts.
Shape into small balls, about 1 inch (25 mm) in diameter. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes in a 350° F (175° C) oven.
Take the cookies out of the oven and let them cool for one hour on a cookie rack. Place on a platform feeder for your backyard birds as desired.
Leftover cookies should be stored in the refrigerator.
Risks of Feeding Oatmeal to Birds
While oatmeal can provide some benefits to birds, there are also some risks associated with feeding it to them.
If the oats have been processed in any way, they should not be fed to wild birds as the processing can damage their digestive systems.
Additionally, it’s important to avoid feeding birds oatmeal that contains additives or sweeteners, as these can be harmful to the bird’s health.
Overall, while oatmeal can be a good option for feeding birds in moderation, it’s important to ensure that it is uncooked.
If you’re unsure about whether or not a particular food is safe for birds to eat, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and avoid feeding it to them.
What to Do About Pigeons
The downside to putting out oats for backyard birds is that it will attract pigeons, too.
Here are some ways to keep pigeons out of your yard while inviting songbirds in.
- Use pigeon-proof feeders. These feeders are weight-activated. They close when a heavier bird, like a pigeon, lands on the perch next to the feeder. This means that you will have to use oats as part of the mix you put in your feeder until your pigeon proem is under control.
- Put up pigeon spikes. These plastic or stainless steel spikes keep pigeons from roosting on your roof or on your fences. Songbirds won’t mind, because they are just passing through.
- Add cinnamon or ginger to the oats you feed your songbirds. Pigeons don’t like these spices, but many other birds do. Thrashers, cardinals, mockingbirds, waxwings, and tanagers love spicy foods. You could add black pepper, too!
Frequently Asked Questions About Feeding Oats to Birds
Q. Can chickens eat oats and oatmeal?
A. Oats and oatmeal are fine for chickens. Just be sure to feed them to your chickens inside their coop or at least under some kind of overhead protection, so they do not become prey for chicken hawks and other raptors.
The same rules apply to feeding oats to ducks, geese, and turkeys.
Q. Is it OK to feed oat cereals (for example, Cheerios) to backyard birds?
A. Breakfast cereals are OK for feeding birds in small amounts, but they should be only a small part of any bird’s diet.
Q. Will putting out oats for songbirds put them in danger from predators?
A. When you are feeding birds from a platform feeder, it is always important to have it elevated from the ground. The supporting legs or beam that hold up the feeder should have squirrel and rat guards to keep them out of the tray.
Platform feeders also need to be sheltered from above, so a hawk or eagle cannot look down and see the songbird feeding from above.
Avoid feeding birds oats thrown out on the ground. This leaves them vulnerable to cats and dogs. Always put out oats in feeders that are above ground level.
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