Recently I noticed a small flock of pine siskins (Spinus pinus) eating ashes from a barbeque grill located on the shore of Medicine Lake (Siskiyou County CA). The birds were very insistent on eating the ashes, permitting me to approach very close before they flew and returning to the grill immediately after I quietly sat on a nearby picnic table. I never noticed this type of behavior before.
I checked the ashes closely to be certain the siskins were eating the ashes, not insects or other food crumbs. No, only the remains of charcoal briquets and wood ashes were in the grill.
Birds do eat ashes for several reasons:
- Ashes contain important trace minerals that birds may need, especially calcium. Pollution (acid rain) tends to deplete calcium from forest ecosystems.
- Birds require grit (ashes contain grit-like particles) to grind up food in their gizzards.
- Ashes in a grill often contain animal fat from cooking meats. Even some seed-eating birds will add animal fat to their diet, when available. Like humans, birds like “suet” in all forms.
There is always something new to learn or experience every time I go out with my camera.