Tuesday, January 7, 2020

10 Fruits you should be feeding backyard birds

If you are only feeding birds birdseed, suet and nectar you are missing out!

There are many colorful summer birds that don't eat seeds and don't normally come to your feeders. You can attract them to your yard by offering fruit at your feeder. You might be surprised what other feeder visitors you may get throughout the year by offering fruits.

Which birds eat fruit? Thrushes (including robins and bluebirds), tanagers, thrashers, orioles, jays, mockingbirds, woodpeckers and others will eat fruits. Some birds thought of as seed eaters will enjoy fruit, too.

It is not expensive to feed birds fruit. I tell you how to feed fruit to birds at a low cost.


In this article
What backyard birds eat fruit?
Kinds of fruit that birds eat (with chart)
How to feed birds fruit
Other considerations


Photo of Western Tanager eating an orange at a feeder
Western Tanager eating an orange.
Would you like to have this bird in your yard?
Photo by Greg Gillson

What backyard birds eat fruit?


What kinds of birds eat fruit? Birds that eat primarily fruit are termed frugivorous. Such birds likely also eat insects to supply protein to their diet. Most frugivorous birds, for instance, feed their nestlings primarily insects.

A less common term is baccivorous, describing any animal that eats primarily berries. In North America berries generally appear only briefly some time in summer or fall. Birds that eat berries in summer and fall will eat insects, grubs and other invertebrates the rest of the year. The term for birds that primarily eat insects is insectivorous.

Other birds are omnivorous, eating a wide variety of foods, including insects, grain, small animals, seeds, berries, and fruit. Some omnivorous birds (jays, crows, starlings, grackles) are undesirable as backyard birds because they tend to be aggressive, to be found around human trash, may eat other birds' eggs or nestlings, and quickly gobble up all the food at bird feeders.

Carnivorous birds, hawks and owls are unlikely to eat fruit.

Granivorous birds, seed eaters such as finches, also eat fruit when available. Apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, and cherries are some of the orchard fruit crops that House Finches sometimes eat.

True insectivorous birds include most flycatchers. Surprisingly, they eat fruit and berries too, but probably rarely at feeders.

Sparrows, buntings, cardinals, and grosbeaks, which eat primarily seeds, feed primarily insects to their young (and also eat insects as adults), and would also occasionally eat fruit. We think of them as seed-eaters, but they have a wider diet.

Tanagers eat primarily insects, but also fruit and berries. They eat oranges, too.

Orioles eat insects, fruit, and nectar. They love oranges!

Thrushes, including bluebirds and American robins eat insects, fruit, and berries. The American Robin eats about 40% invertebrates such as worms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and about 60% fruit.

Catbirds, mockingbirds, and thrashers are omnivores, eating insects and fruit. Up to 50% of the diet of Gray Catbird is fruit and berries.

Waxwings eat insects and berries. They eat fruit such as cherries.

Woodpeckers eat fruit and berries along with their typical insect and nut diet. Red-bellied Woodpeckers visit feeders for fruit. Sapsuckers visit orchards in winter to eat old apples still hanging on the trees.

Warblers eat berries and fruit. Yellow-rumped Warblers, that spend the winter farther north than most others eat berries and fruit in winter.

Quails, turkeys, and pheasants will eat berries. If you live on the edge of farmlands you may have these birds visit your backyard.


Kinds of fruit that birds eat


These are the fruits and the types of birds typically listed as eating them. This is not a complete list.

1. Apples

What kinds of birds eat apples? Birds that eat apples include buntings, cardinals, grosbeaks, mockingbirds, thrashers, waxwings, wrens.

2. Oranges

What kinds of birds eat oranges? Birds that eat oranges include bluebirds, catbirds, grosbeaks, mockingbirds, orioles, robins, tanagers, thrashers, towhees, waxwings, woodpeckers.

3. Purple grapes

What kinds of birds eat grapes? Birds that eat grapes include bluebirds, catbirds, grosbeaks, mockingbirds, robins, tanagers, towhees, waxwings, woodpeckers.

4. Grape jelly

What kinds of birds eat grape jelly? Birds that eat grape jelly include catbirds, orioles.

5. Raisins

What kinds of birds eat raisins? Birds that eat raisins include bluebirds, catbirds, mockingbirds, orioles, robins, waxwings.

6. Blueberries

What kinds of birds eat blueberries? Birds that eat blueberries include bluebirds, catbirds, mockingbirds, waxwings

7. Cranberries

What kinds of birds eat cranberries? Birds that eat cranberries include bluebirds, catbirds, mockingbirds, waxwings.

8. Cherries

What kinds of birds eat cherries? Birds that eat cherries include bluebirds, catbirds, finches, mockingbirds, waxwings.

9. Currants

What kinds of birds eat currants? Birds that eat currants include bluebirds, catbirds, mockingbirds, robins, thrushes, waxwings.

10. Blackberries

What kinds of birds eat blackberries? Birds that eat blackberries include orioles, robins.

This is not a complete list. What other fruits and berries are sold at your local markets? If you eat them, then birds will eat them. Plums, pears, mangoes, watermelons, pumpkins, squashes, cantaloupes, strawberries, huckleberries, bananas, grapefruits. You no doubt can think of things I'm missing!

You can also plant many trees and bushes that produce berries that birds love. Many of these are  not often eaten by people: mulberries, elderberries, holly, Oregon grape, juniper. Many shrubs sold as hedges produce berries that birds will eat. You should check your local nursery for native shrubs that will grow in your area and local birds are already used to eating.

Here is a chart of common fruits fed to birds at feeders and some of the birds noted to frequently eat them.

BirdApplesOrangesGrapesRaisinsCherries
 bluebirdsyesyesyesyes
 cardinalsyes
 catbirdsyesyesyesyes
 finchesyes
 grosbeaksyesyesyes
 mockingbirdsyesyesyesyesyes
 oriolesyesyes
 robinsyesyesyes
 tanagersyesyes
 thrashersyesyes
 towheesyesyes
 waxwingsyesyesyesyes
 woodpeckersyesyes

Note: Many of the lists from which this chart was compiled were created for birds of the Eastern United States. There is every reason to believe western counterparts would equally eat the listed fruits. For instance, "bluebirds" usually refer to Eastern Bluebird. But Western Bluebird and Mountain Bluebird would also likely eat the same fruits. "Cardinals" refer to Northern Cardinal, "catbirds" refer to Gray Catbird, "grosbeaks" refer to Rose-breasted Grosbeak, "mockingbirds" refer to Northern Mockingbird, "orioles" refer to Baltimore Oriole, "robins" refer to American Robin, "tanagers" refer to Scarlet Tanager, "thrashers" refer to Brown Thrasher, "towhees" refer to Eastern Towhee, "waxwings" refer to Cedar Waxwing, "woodpeckers" refer to Red-bellied Woodpecker.

How to feed birds fruit


How to prepare fruit for birds


The easiest way to prepare either fresh or dried fruit for birds is to cut it in pieces. You should try both larger and smaller pieces of fruit to see if any birds prefer one size over another.

Oranges may be offered in sections. However, they are often offered by cutting in half crosswise. Do not peel.

Similarly, apples may be offered cut into slices or the apple may be cut in half lengthwise. Do not peel or core.

Raisins and dried fruits like cranberries can be soaked in water over night before being offered to birds.

Commercial dried fruit: some bird foods at your local market may offer a "nut, fruit & berry" blend. These are made for hopper and platform bird feeders. There may also be "tropical fruit" bird foods prepared for parrots that wild birds may eat.

How to offer fruit to birds


Fruit may be placed out directly on the ground or on the tray of your platform bird feeder. Better, cut up pieces may be placed in a small glass bowl so it isn't scattered about.

However, there is always the risk that a jay or crow will come by and snatch all the fruit and carry it off. Thus, it may be prudent to contain or hold down the fruit. How?

Mesh "onion bags" may be used to keep fruit in. Birds will then pull individual pieces through.

In summer it is too hot to feed suet. Instead, clean up those metal suet cages and fill with larger pieces of fruit for the birds to nibble on.

Oranges and apples may be cut in half and impaled on a tree branch, nail, or special "oriole" bird feeder equipped with a spike to hold fruit.

A project perhaps for the young, you may "sew" pieces of fruit onto thread and make a garland to drape over a bush or small tree.

How to feed birds fruit cheaply from kitchen scraps


When you wash purple concord grape clusters (I don't think many birds will eat green varieties of grapes) you'll find bruised, split, and some with crusty scabs sometimes. Instead of throwing them out, feed them to the birds!

Sometimes you get bags of oranges and find many are unripe and tasteless. They sit on your counter hoping to ripen. But eventually they get soft on the bottom before they get edible. Instead of throwing them out, cut them in half and give them to the birds!

The same is true of most other fruit.

Save the seeds from pumpkins, squashes, and melons to feed the birds.

The rinds of melons with some flesh still attached can be saved for birds.

Pick up any windfall fruit you find. Cut away the bruises and feed the rest of it to the birds.

Freeze excess summer and fall fruit to feed birds in winter.

Other considerations


Don't feed birds spoiled or fermented food. If it has mold on it, throw it away (or compost it). Do not leave spoiled fruit out where it will attract pests.

Perhaps more than other foods you may feed birds, fruit will go bad fast. Be prepared to remove it from your feeder when it goes bad. This is why it may be good to freeze excess fruit and only put out as much fruit as the birds will eat in a day or two.

If you don't clean up the fruit, or put too much out at once, you'll soon have ants and insect pests, rodents, raccoons, opossums, skunks, dogs, coyotes, or bears visiting! For this reason feed fruit farther away from your house, to keep pests away.



Related: Feeding birds orange halves

Have you ever wondered? What is a thistle sock?



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