Many backyard birds can eat popcorn—but no birds should eat popcorn as a regular part of their diet.
In this article, we will discuss how you can recognize the backyard birds that can eat popcorn as well as the backyard birds that can’t.
We will discuss the limited nutritional benefits of popcorn and how you can add nutrition to popcorn by making bird-friendly popcorn balls. (Spoiler alert: You should not make popcorn balls for backyard birds with sugar syrup!)
We will also discuss some common questions about feeding birds popcorn, including giving popcorn to chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys.
The Nutritional Value of Popcorn for Birds
Think of all the reasons you like popcorn.
Popcorn is crunchy. It’s light, so it doesn’t fill you up very fast. It’s salty. It can be buttery. You can add your favorite flavors to it.
Now think about these desirable characteristics of popcorn from a backyard bird’s perspective.
What Birds Like About Popcorn
There are no butter-eating birds. There are birds that are attracted to salty foods.
These include mourning doves, crows, blue jays, pine siskins, purple martins, and woodpeckers.
As for the flavor of popcorn that the birds in your backyard, birds like “wormy” flavor best.
They will scarf down stale popcorn that has sat on the shelf so long that has become infested with worms and weevils.
Bugs that grow in spoiled cereal are actually a great source of vitamin B12 for birds, and they would be for you, if you ate them.
The nutritional value of unspoiled popcorn is a different matter.
The Nutritional Content of Air-Popped Popcorn
Air-popped popcorn is actually not a bad food for seed-eating birds,
Each cup of air-popped popcorn provides about 30 calories of energy.
Even if a bird could eat a cup of popcorn at a time, and most backyard birds can only eat a small fraction of that amount, the bird would have to eat 300 cups of popcorn a day to meet its basic calorie needs.
This does not mean that you cover the ground with popcorn to feed your flying friends.
Birds will instinctively avoid minimally nutritious foods like air-popped popcorn. But what about popcorn popped in oil and smothered with butter?
The Nutritional Content of Popcorn Popped in Oil
As every person who loves popcorn knows, popping popcorn in oil and added melted butter when it comes out makes it delicious.
And as every person who loves popcorn and is trying to diet knows, adding flavor to popcorn also adds fat.
How much fat? VeryWell Health tells us that:
- A cup of popcorn popped in oil yields 54 calories and has 3 grams of fat.
- A cup of popcorn popped in oil and topped with butter comes in at 84 calories, and 7 grams of fat.
- If you added a little Parmesan cheese to your butter sauce, your cup of popcorn would yield 90 calories and 8 grams of fat.
So, if a backyard bird depends on buttered popcorn that has been popped in oil and topped with grated Parmesan cheese, then it would only need to eat 100 cups of popcorn a day as its main food.
A bird’s digestive tract simply cannot process that much popcorn.
More importantly, when a bird fills its crop with foods like popped popcorn, there is not enough room left for more important foods, such as high-energy seeds and worms. Unpopped popcorn is somewhat better.
The Nutritional Value of Unpopped Popcorn
A cup of unpopped popcorn, according to the website CarbManager, has 138 grams of carbohydrate, just 8 grams of fat, and offers over 800 calories.
That is enough to make a difference in one bird’s diet for one day.
However, a cup of unpopped popcorn also contains about 120 milligrams of magnesium, enough to make the bird poop profusely.
You don’t need to worry about that possibility, because backyard birds will wisely avoid stuffing themselves with unpopped popcorn.
Putting Out Too Much Popcorn Can Result in a Behavior Called Neophibia
Wildlife biologists have a term for avoidance behaviors by birds that have encountered bad food at a feeder.
It is called neophibia.
Feeder avoidance results from putting out moldy or spoiled food, or food that does not offer enough nutrition.
Birds must have high-quality food. They need food that is easily handled.
The one or two seconds a songbird might spend pecking on a piece of popcorn could be just long enough to expose it to a predator like an owl or a hawk.
As you know, birds don’t have teeth. As a result, birds need food that is easy to digest.
They may swallow tiny pieces of sand or grit to grind the seeds they store in their crop before it empties into their stomach.
Popcorn can prevent the smaller seeds from being properly prepared for digestion.
Backyard birds are remarkably proficient at identifying nutritious foods.
However, if you want to make a nutritious treat for your birds from popcorn, consider making popcorn balls.
Popcorn Balls for Backyard Birds
When you are making any kind of treat for the birds that visit your property, think in terms of what they like to eat, not what you like to eat.
Don’t be hesitant to mix popped popcorn with dried mealworms or suet to make popcorn balls that give birds the food they actually need.
Here’s the recipe for healthy popcorn balls.
Exact measurements are not important.
- 7 to 10 cups (400 to 600 grams) of popped popcorn, no salt, butter, or cheese added.
- 4 to 6 tablespoons (60 to 100 grams) of peanut butter, either smooth or crunchy. Jelly added is OK.
- About a cup (170 grams) of dried fruit
- As much birdseed, diced suet, or dried mealworms as you can work into the mix.
- Cooking spray, to keep the mixture from sticking to your hands.
- Some twine, to hang the balls, and scissors to cut the twine.
To make about 12 popcorn balls:
- Pop the popcorn in an air popper.
- While the popcorn is popping, put the peanut butter in a small bowl, and warm it in the microwave for 20 seconds to make it easier to work with.
- Mix the popcorn and peanut butter together in a large mixing bowl.
- Work in dried fruit, birdseed, and other ingredients with a wooden spoon. You will get better mixing if you use a wooden spoon instead of a metal or plastic spoon.
- Cover the mixture and let it stand for 30 minutes, until it has reached room temperature. This is to make it easier to form balls.
- Spray some cooking spray on your hands, and form 12 small balls.
- Wrap some twine around each ball.
- Tie each ball to a tree limb in your backyard, or lay them out on a squirrel-safe platform feeder.
Now sit back and wait for your birds to discover their treat!
Frequently Asked Questions About Feeding Birds Popcorn
Q. Is it OK to feed popcorn to backyard chickens, ducks, turkeys, or geese?
A. You should never feed popcorn to baby chicks. Just-hatched chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese have specific nutritional requirements.
They cannot afford to eat junk food, such as popcorn.
However, it’s OK to feed popcorn to adult chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese occasionally,
Q. Is the problem with microwave popcorn that it has very little nutritional value?
A. Microwave popcorn has about the same nutritional value as stove-popped popcorn, which is to say, not very much.
The problem with microwave popcorn is flavorings and stabilizers.
Many of these ingredients are chemically similar to aspirin, and trigger allergies in birds (and people).
Q. Which birds eat unpopped popcorn kernels?
A. Birds that eat unpopped popcorn kernels have strong beaks, like blue jays, pigeons, and woodpeckers.
For smaller birds, unpopped kernels are too hard, although you could soften them by soaking them in water overnight.
Q. What about giving backyard birds feed corn?
A. One thing to keep in mind about feed corn is that squirrels, mice, rats, and deer love it, too.
You usually do not want to scatter feed corn on the ground to feed birds.
Uncracked feed corn on the ground is fine for chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys.
Uncracked feed corn on a platform feeder will attract blue jays, crows, and cranes. Cracked feed corn in a feeder is best for sparrows and doves.
Q. Can I feed birds corn on the cob?
A. Most birds will not peck corn off the cob, unless it is left out in a very secure location.
The time they spend pecking off a kernel of corn leaves them exposed to predators from above and below.
And even if you place corn on the cob in a secure location, squirrels will often get to it before birds do.
Q. What about feeding Pop Rocks to birds?
A. Pop Rocks are a milk-based candy similar to dulce de leche, only with carbon dioxide bubbles that make them pop when they are chewed.
Don’t feed them to birds. The birds would be frightened when they bite into the rock or the gas bubbles explode in their crops.
The nutritional value of Pop Rocks is extremely limited.
Q, Can I give the birds in my backyard my leftover caramel popcorn?
A. No. The added sugar and salt can give birds diarrhea and cause clean up problems in the area where you feed them.
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