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Is Kibble OK for Birds? (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
Near my house in Nara, Japan, there is an abandoned building that I pass on my way to our local mini-supermarket, with a lot of feral cats (it's a former workshop; the heavy-smoking owner lived a couple of doors away, presumably dropped a cigarette while pissed, the house burnt down, and he is no more). And no-one has done anything with the workshop except to board up a part of it.

Anyway, these cats are fed by what in pre-PC days would be called a 'mad cat lady' (she dresses in rags, even though she actually lives in a very nice house nearby; it's rather sad).

The lady feeds the cats with kibble (the dry pellet food). She scatters it around, and as well as the cats, it is taken by a lot of (Eurasian Tree) Sparrows and sometimes other birds (White-cheeked Starlings, and I've seen a couple of Japanese White-eyes, and sometimes Crows).

In another place that I go to, with a pond, another woman feeds the Eurasian Coots with kibble, and they really go for it.

My question is whether this kibble is OK for the birds, even good for them, or whether it's something that they might like, but may not be good for them in the longer run.

I'm prompted to post this question by something that has happened as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here in Nara as some of you will know, there is a park with a temple with a giant Buddha statue, and a lot of semi-wild deer. In the park, you can buy 'deer crackers' to feed the deer. This is an officially sanctioned thing, and we are told that the crackers are specially formulated to be healthy for the deer. And part of the profits from the sale of the crackers is used to pay for salaries for people who look after the deer in the background (horn removal where necessary, winter feed, removal of dead deer, and so on).

Anyway, over the last ten years, the number of tourists visiting our city has increased ten-fold (and we were a major destination long before then). Most of these new visitors were Chinese, and obviously they simply disappeared overnight in March. And Japanese tourists are not here either.

The result of this is that the deer have had to return to their traditional source of food - grass. And so lots of deer have been wandering into the city looking for food - sometimes any old patch of grass, but also begging from the humans they meet (the deer have learned to bow as a request for crackers).

The connection with my bird question is this: a local researcher has studied the excrement of the deer before and after Covid-19. He has found that the deer's recent productions have reverted to a natural state - little black berries, like rabbits produce. But the cracker-fed deer (not all of the deer; some groups seemed to eat a lot more crackers than other groups) produced a much more watery output, and milky-coffee coloured. And he says that this is because the natural diet of grass contains its own water, but the crackers - which are more like hay, if you like, though made mainly from rice husks, I think - require the deer to drink a lot more water than they normally would in order to digest them (there are streams in the park).

So, it seems that the crackers, that we were told are specifically designed to be 'perfect' for the deer, are not a straightforward replacement for the natural diet.

In the case of the deer, I don't know if this has any long-term bad effects. But I wondered if someone might have an opinion on the effect of kibble as a main dietary source for birds. I think it must contain mainly protein (it's cat food) and Sparrows are seed-eaters, while Coots are grass eaters.

Note: This is just a random 'strange times' post, since I haven't been to my local spot for a couple of weeks, as the rainy season here this year has been strange in that rather than being very humid and raining only ever few days, has been daily rain for ages.


Speak softly and carry a long lens
I'm not sure which species are present in Japan, but all the sparrows I can think of will frequently eat insects (and indeed feed nothing else to their hatchlings). Similarly, every species of coot I've looked into will eat any animals they can catch (insects, crustaceans, snails, newts, even bird's eggs).

It's certainly possible for a very unbalanced diet to have unhealthy effects, but it doesn't seem likely that cat food is lacking in any particular nutrient that's much needed by birds. It might contain less roughage than is ideal for coots, but there's more roughage in it than you might expect - meat is expensive, so kibble usually contains lots of plant meal (usually maize in the US, but Japan may differ).

There is one obvious thing lacking in kibble: water. Clearly the birds can adjust by drinking more frequently, but it's possible this has some effect.

PS Eating a lot of grass is not really a deer's natural diet. Deer vastly prefer the leaves of deciduous plants, or fruit or nuts (in season - in winter they make do with bark, lichens, evergreens, etc). Actually, judging by photos of Nara park, it's obvious the deer there _do_ eat all the deciduous leaves they can reach. They're eating grass because they've already eaten everything better.


Well-known member
Thanks for this reply.

As regards the birds, I wasn't really thinking that kibble would not contain essential elements of the diet, but rather the reverse, that it might contain stuff that is not part of the bird's natural diet, at least on a regular basis and that this might be negative for the birds in the long run.

At least one bunch of sparrows seems to be living on kibble alone, and one group of coots in the winter (the number of coots visiting has grown from a handful to dozens since the lady started kibbling them).

As regards the deer, in Nara Park, a few trees are protected with wire, but in general, there doesn't seem to be any problem of deer damaging trees. When you see deer eating it's either crackers or grass - though they are keen on acorns in season, and citzens often collect large bags of them in winter and take them to the park for the deer.

Without the crackers, large quantities of deer have been coming out of the park (one or two sometimes do, but not large groups like at the moment). The bunch in the first two photos (from my window) rejected my neighbour's plants in favour of the grass verge in the office grounds opposite.

Some links:

Deer return to wild

Deer scat improves

Further south in Nara Prefecture, at Mount Odaigahara (1700m, compared with 100m for Nara City), there is a problems with habitat destruction by uncontrolled deer numbers, as you can see in the other two photos. People object to culling the deer, and as a result the landscape - which used to be a breeding spot for Japanese Robin - is more or less dead.

The first photo says - This landscape used to look like this
The second photo says - the brown spots (circled red) are deer

Anyway, thanks again for the reply.


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