Bird Seed: What You Need to Know

Walk into any big box store and the sheer variety of bird seed available may have you questioning what you need to know before feeding wild birds in your backyard. Follow these simple steps to choose the right bird food for your feeders.

Steps to choosing the right bird seed

1. Think about the wild birds in your area.

The first step to choosing the right bird food is to think about the birds you’re trying to help. Different species prefer slightly different types of seed. Although some seeds attract multiple types of birds, most birds have slight variations at different times of year. Here are a few basic pairings to start you off:

  • Black oil sunflower seed – this seed will attract goldfinches, chickadees, woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, redpolls, cardinals, crossbills, sparrows, jays, purple finches and house finches–depending on what type of bird feeder is used.
  • Millet – Millet on a tray or platform feeder will attract doves, blackbirds, cowbirds, some sparrows, juncos and towhees.
  • Corn – Though technically not bird seed, corn on a platform feeder is a great choice for starlings, grackles, juncos, doves, many sparrows, jays, quail and pheasants.
  • Peanuts – Peanuts are not just for squirrels (although you’re likely to find them around if you use peanuts to attract birds, so have a strategy in place for dealing with them). Peanuts will attract cardinals, grackles, titmice, sparrows, jays, chickadees, finches and juncos.
  • Nyjer Thistle – Nyjer requires a special feeder. Nyjer feeders are special partially because they have smaller holes to keep the tiny feed from spilling out. Nyjer Thistle will attract goldfinches, purple finches, chickadees, dark-eyed junkos, redpolls, doves and some sparrows.
  • Nectar – Nectar is a liquid sugary substance that requires a special feeder. Nectar feeders come in a variety of styles and shapes depending on which type of bird you are trying to feed. Although Nectar is typically associated with Hummingbirds and Orioles, the right nectar feeder will also attract cardinals, woodpeckers, finches and thrushes.
  • Fruit – Many wild birds will flock to fruit feeders, especially during spring nesting season. Orioles, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, thrashers, starling, cedar waxwings, bluebirds, cardinals, jays, thrushes and chats all enjoy simple fruit additions to their diet. Keep in mind, a fruit feeder isn’t the only way to provide this. Berry plants, simple slices of fruit on a fence line and/or on a tray feeder will all work well too.
  • Suet – Most birds that like suet will eat other types of food as well. Suet is particularly important in the late fall and winter, when bugs and worms are harder to come by and protein is desperately needed. Woodpeckers, chickadees, kinglets, creepers, starlings, wrens, nuthatches, cardinals and more will supplement their diets from suet feeders.

2. Think about what time of year it is.

Most birds eat a variety of different diets, largely dependent on what is available and the season. Rotating food types, by time of year, has many benefits. In spring and summer, black oil sunflower seed and peanuts have the widest appeal and are the most economical, when birds are out in droves for mating season. In fall and winter, suet becomes important, especially to small birds.

3. Choose a high-quality seed.

It might be tempting to pick up a cheap bag of seed at the grocery store, but it will cost you more in the long run. Most of the most popular wild birds are not attracted to the cheap corn and wheat that are used as filler in cheap feeders. If you’ve ever seen birds seem to “waste” seed by throwing it to the ground, it’s likely a cheap mix. Use a high-quality seed and your backyard friends will both be grateful.

Choosing bird seed doesn’t have to be confusing. Follow these steps before shopping and you’ll easily make a good choice!

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