“Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag” sings “the Little Old Bird Woman” perched on “the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral” in the most emotionally moving song in Mary Poppins – but have you ever stopped to ask what’s in those bags? Bits of bread, perhaps? But what about potatoes?
While that’s almost certainly not what’s in “the bag full of crumbs” she’s feeding her birds, the question remains – could you do so with your own? Are potatoes safe for birds to eat, and if so, what is the best way to prepare them to make sure you and they get their “tuppence’s worth?”
The Benefits of Feeding Birds Potatoes
The short answer to our question is a resounding yes – under the right circumstances, it’s not just okay to feed your birds potatoes, but a good idea given how nutritious they can be.
A good clue to why potatoes are such a good idea for your birds can be found in the way we have historically eaten potatoes. From the fields of Ireland to Van Gogh’s famous “Potato Eaters,” potatoes were a staple of working-class diets throughout the 18th and 19th century in large part because they provide so many carbohydrates and proteins that they’re one of the rare foods that are inexpensive, easy to grow, and can give you enough energy to put in a day’s work.
Your birds thankfully don’t have to toil in the fields, but the huge burst of carbs, protein, and energy they can get from potatoes is still a big plus.
What’s more, while too much fat isn’t good for birds (or us), a little bit in winter can be beneficial.
The Many Methods of Potato Preparation
As for how to prepare potatoes for birds, you have several choices.
First and perhaps most obviously, you can choose to serve them simple baked potatoes. These potatoes can be served cold, in which case, it’s best to open them up beforehand, as they’ll likely be a bit harder otherwise for the birds to nibble than if you cook them.
That said, you can also serve your bird baked potatoes that have been roasted or boiled, which is by far the best method in terms of overall ease for both you and the birds. When doing this, make sure that the potato is nice and soft, or it will be too hard for the birds, and if they do peck away at hard chunks of potato, they may choke when swallowing them.
On the happier side of things, you can easily mix extra goodies into the baked potatoes such as sunflower seeds for extra taste and nutritional value.
Additionally, you can make the potatoes nice and soft by mashing them.
Finally, aside from normal potatoes, you can also feed birds sweet potatoes. Birds tend to like the taste of them, making them a nice treat. In addition, they are rich in antioxidants and help promote good digestion, which isn’t always the case with potatoes as demonstrated below.
What Not to Do
Fish and Chips may be a mainstay of the British diet, but Mary Poppins’ Little Old Bird Woman would not approve – and with good reason. Whether you call them Chips or French Fries, they’re bad for birds. The typical type of French Fries you get from McDonald’s or even most local stores are salty, oily, or both, neither of which are good for your bird.
Salt content in particular is problematic, and can lead to everything from digestive problems to dehydration to kidney failure.
That being said, if you cook your own French Fries without oil, grease, or salt, they might be just fine for your bird.
Additionally, while you may be able to save them cold, you should not serve the potatoes raw. Potatoes in this state contain protease, which can make it harder for the bird to digest nutrients. What’s more, raw potatoes are really starchy.
They have that in common with “the bagful of crumbs” sold by the Little Old Bird Lady in Mary Poppins’ song. Thankfully, a few crumbs like that or bits of potato probably won’t matter too much, but a whole loaf of bread or raw potato are definitely too starchy and bad for the birds’ digestion.
Finally, you should be sparing in how much you feed your birds potatoes of any kind because, as good as they can be when prepared properly, they can be fattening and lead to obesity issues. Potatoes are more of a snack or treat than an exclusive staple of birds’ diets.
The whole point of feeding the birds in the Little Old Bird Woman’s song is, of course, to “show them you care” – and, by extension, to show that same empathy to her. The empathy felt between birds and their owners and feeders is a palpable one of which properly prepared potatoes can play a prominent part.
I have two Associate’s degrees, one in Medical Assisting and the other in Computer Technician, and I am roughly five classes from a bachelor’s degree. Though I never ended up working in the medical field, I have five and a half years of experience in IT. I recently became a stay-at-home mom to my two young boys and also have two dogs and two cats. I grew up with pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies, cockatiels, and fish and also love horseback riding. In my spare time, I love to bake and read pretty much anything I can get my hands on.