At this time of the year, most of us are making New Year’s resolutions. One resolution many of us try to live by is to eat less salt this year. Although the harmful effects of a high salt diet on humans are well documented, is the same true for the birds that visit our backyard feeders?
The truth of the matter is we really do not know for sure. However, contrary to some reports, anecdotal evidence suggests it more than likely is not a problem. However, that is not to say that seeking salt does not have its risks.
In north Georgia where salt is often spread on highways to melt ice, wild birds are sometimes struck by vehicles when they gather on and alongside the salt-treated pavement.
Birds have historically been known to eat salt at natural salt licks. Here they eat salt laden earth. Nowadays hunters, particularly those in the northern half of the state, put out salt for deer; like salt licks provided by Mother Nature, these manmade licks will also attract birds.
Some birds definitely eat more salt than others do. Birds that are drawn to salt include, purple finches, pine siskins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays, and crows.
Likewise, the mourning dove also has an affinity for salt. For this reason, some unscrupulous hunters will bait fields with rock salt in hopes of drawing flocks of mourning doves within shooting range.
I personally have never seen anyone purposely offer salt to backyard birds. However, it has been reported when it is, birds will avoid it.
However, when you come to think about it, we all offer salt to birds in other forms. For example, alt is a major ingredient in the bake goods we feed to birds. In addition, who hasn’t fed salted nuts to birds? As such, our own personal experiences suggest the small amount of salt contained in these foods is not killing the feathered diners at our backyard feeding stations.
If you want to see if birds are attracted to salt laden soil, you might want to sprinkle some salt on a small bare spot in your yard. It will not take long for the salt to dissolve into the ground. Then, keep an eye on the spot and see if any birds eat the salty soil.
One word of caution: I would not recommend you try this in an area where deer are abundant. The last thing you want to do is attract white-tailed deer to your yard.
I hope I have answered any questions you may have regarding the possible dangers of feeding salt to wild birds.
In the meantime, if you have had an experience with birds eating salt, I would appreciate it if you would share it with me.
I have a little gang of house sparrow around 40. I feed them wild bird seed and they love my small pond. On my table is a himalayan pink salt rock. They’re not all over it, but they do use it daily. I was looking to see if it was ok for them . So far, no dead sparrows . It’s been about a year . They seem to really like it.
Do not feed house sparrows, they are a non-native invasive species. They do a massive amount of damage to native wildlife. House sparrows are not a part of nature in North America, native cavity nesting birds have no defense against them.
In response to the other response about not feeding them because they are “invasive”, I get the point, but that is very sad. They did not bring themselves here. We did. People are so mean and hateful towards Starlings for the same reason. But it is not their fault and they are beautiful living creatures. Humans are the ones that made the stupid choice to take them out of their natural habitat. I’ll keep feeding whatever beautiful animals show up in my yard.
Ivm in Eastern Ontario, Canada. I’ve noticed in the Winter that our local mourning doves, some finches and black eyes juncos are attracted to the salt/sand mix I use on my front steps on the ice. I’ve seen a couple of chickadees also. I haven’t voluntarily given them salt yet though. I will try to give some bit of trace mineral and salt licks left from the horses to see if they are attracted to it.
Thanks for sharing your experiences with birds that have been attracted to a mixture of sand and salt. Let us know about your experiences feeding birds salt and trace minerals.
I left a large amount io salt tablets on hard surface just outside my back door. They were used in a dishwasher but I no longer needed them & didn’t know what to do with them so spread them over the hard surface so rain could dissolve them for me. The first thing I noticed was the weeds growing in the gaps started dying off, a bonus I had not anticipated. I then noticed a lot of birds seemed to be very interested in them. I have ponds & a large area of grass which the birds visited, but we’re congregating where I had left the salt. The salt has now gone but the birds still seem to be looking for it.
I put a commercial salt block out for backyard deer. It’s been so hot I thought they would appreciate it. I do not feed them, other animals or birds but I do have a bird bath.
I noticed that after a rain birds will perch on top of the block and drink water that has collected in an indentation on top. I thought it odd. I have also seen them a few times pecking at the block.
We live in Northern Nevada and have a backyard mainly devoted to wild birds. Always have fresh water for the birds. Lately, I’ve been chopping up roasted peanuts and throwing those out in the yard, and the birds come early to get their treats. Now, I also chop some of the peanuts we eat (with salt) and add to their peanuts. Everything is gone within an hour of feeding. We figure that we are helping the birds get the nutrients they need, while having the water to quench their thirst. Mind you, they also get the store seeds.
I live in north west Georgia and have a salt lick for the deer in the woods behind our house, every day it has morning doves, woodpeckers and a variety of other small birds pecking at it. I never noticed a hawk or large bird there . I live in Georgia six months and Rochester , ny six months and see the the activity there….
I have 4 cockatiels. I usually get additional raw sunflower seeds for them.(in addition to the cocktail seed). A while back I ended up with toasted shelleed seeds. They ate it up like they liked it. Well this time I accidentally ended up with toasted, salted seeds in the shell. Wondering if that would be harmful to them.
I installed a mineral block (like for horses) under my squirrel feeder after I noticed some squirrels licking the bricks of my back porch. Today, I observed (and filmed) a mating pair of red-headed house finches pecking at it/eating it and googled to get more information and found this page. I often have mourning doves and blue jays in this area instead of my bird feeder so it is possible they prefer the salt that has washed down into spilled seed from the squirrels over the unsalted feed offered at the bird feeder 10 yards away.
Thanks for sharing this information.
I have a salt lick for my squirrels and they use it quite a lot, more in the summer of course. I do occasionally see birds peck on it – since it is more than a couple pecks I know it is beyond just being curious. It’s pretty uncommon though with the birds.
Thanks for the report on squirrels using salt in the summer. This is the first report I have received of this type of use. I hope you have a great year of wildlife watching!