When it comes to bird food, there are many options available on the market. However, choosing the right type of food for the birds you want to attract can be a bit tricky. In most areas, black-oil sunflower seed is the preferred choice as it attracts the greatest variety of birds. It has a high meat-to-shell ratio and a high-fat content, making it easy for small birds to handle and crack. Striped sunflower seeds are larger with thicker seed coats and are preferred by some bird species.
While sunflower seeds are the all-round favorite, some birds have different food preferences. For instance, blackbirds relish corn, whereas doves and many ground-feeding birds prefer white millet or red milo. Certain species may even have different food preferences in different parts of their range.
To help you select the right type of food for the birds you want to attract, we have provided a table below with the food preferences of common feeder birds. T
Food Preferences of Common Feeder Birds
|Chickadees, Titmice, Nuthatches||X||X||X|
To ensure the bird food stays fresh, it is important to store it carefully. If you buy a lot of seed, keep it in a dry, cool place, in a rodent-proof, metal can. Check the seed often for mold, and throw out any seed that is questionable.
In conclusion, choosing the right bird food can help attract a variety of bird species to your yard. By using the table provided and storing the food properly, you can ensure that the birds receive the necessary nutrition they need to thrive.
Choosing Bird Food: Seed Types
Corn is a popular food choice for larger birds such as jays, pigeons, doves, turkeys, pheasants, and quail. Smaller birds can also enjoy corn if it is cracked. Blackbirds, finches, and sparrows are some of the birds that will be attracted to cracked corn.
Millet comes in two varieties: red and white. Most birds prefer white proso millet over the red variety. Ground-feeding birds such as doves, juncos, and sparrows find millet particularly appealing. However, it is important to note that millet can also attract undesirable non-native species such as European Starlings and House Sparrows.
Milo, also known as sorghum, is often used as a “filler” in birdseed mixes. Most birds will only eat it if there are no better options available. Be aware that it may also attract undesirable aggressive birds such as cowbirds, starlings, and grackles.
Cardinals are particularly fond of safflower, which is often more expensive than sunflower seed. Grosbeaks, sparrows, and doves also enjoy it. Safflower is sometimes recommended for dissuading undesirable species because it may have less appeal to starlings, House Sparrows, and squirrels.
Nyjer, also known as thistle seed, is a favorite of small finches such as goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls. It is important to note that nyjer is expensive and should be offered in specially-designed thistle seed feeders to prevent spilling and dissuade larger birds.
Black-oil sunflower seed is the most popular choice for bird feeders, particularly for tree-dwelling birds. It has a high meat-to-shell ratio and is high in fat. The small size and thin shell make it easy for small birds such as the Black-capped Chickadee to handle and crack.
Striped sunflower seeds are larger and have thicker seed coats, making them more difficult for small birds to process.
Peanuts are a great snack for birds like titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals, jays, and many sparrows. They can be offered shelled or whole. Peanut feeders are specially-designed wire-mesh cages, often cylindrical.
Mixed seed is a popular option for feeding birds, especially ground-feeding birds. This type of seed is best sprinkled on the ground or platform feeders. It typically contains high quantities of millet, which is preferred by ground-feeding birds.
However, many feeder birds will not eat millet. To ensure all birds have access to food, try filling hanging feeders with sunflower seeds and spreading mixed seed for ground-feeding birds. Mixed seed may contain a combination of wheat, oats, pellets, and seed mixtures.
Hummingbirds and Nectar
- To make artificial nectar for hummingbirds, mix one part sugar with four parts boiling water. Let the mixture cool before use.
- Do not add red food coloring to the nectar as it is unnecessary and potentially harmful to hummingbirds. Red portals or a red ribbon on the feeder can attract the birds just as well.
- Change the nectar every three to five days to prevent mold and fermentation.
- Clean the hummingbird feeder regularly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Never use honey or artificial sweeteners in hummingbird feeders as they do not provide the necessary energy and nutrition that the birds require. Honey can also grow mold that can be dangerous to hummingbirds.
- Do not use any kind of oil around feeding portals to deter insects as it can contaminate the nectar and ruin the birds’ insulative properties. If bees, wasps, or ants become a problem, try moving the feeder.
Hummingbirds primarily feed on flower nectar, but if you provide hummingbird feeders, you will need to make your own artificial nectar. A sugar solution is adequate, and you do not need to purchase expensive commercial hummingbird nectars that have added vitamins and minerals.
When making the sugar solution, boil the water before measuring as some water will evaporate away in the process. Once the mixture is cool, it is ready for use. You can store extra sugar water in your refrigerator for up to one week, but if left longer, it may become moldy.
It is essential to change the sugar solution every three to five days to prevent mold and fermentation. Cleaning the hummingbird feeder regularly is also crucial to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Avoid using honey or artificial sweeteners in hummingbird feeders as they do not provide the necessary energy and nutrition that the birds require. Honey can also grow mold that can be dangerous to hummingbirds.
Do not use any kind of oil around feeding portals to deter insects as it can contaminate the nectar and ruin the birds’ insulative properties. If bees, wasps, or ants become a problem, try moving the feeder.
Choosing Bird Food: Other Foods
Fruit and Fruit Seeds:
If you want to attract birds such as robins, thrushes, waxwings, and bluebirds, fruit is a great option. These birds don’t usually visit seed feeders because seeds aren’t a major part of their diet. You can try offering raisins or currants that have been softened by soaking in water.
Diced fresh fruit like apples, melons, or grapes can also be offered. Orange halves are particularly desirable, especially to orioles, which also go for grape jelly. You can also save your Halloween pumpkin seeds, as well as other squash or melon seeds, for the birds.
Some birds relish these more than black-oil sunflower seeds. Spread them out to let them dry, then run them through a food processor to make it easier for smaller birds to eat.
Birds will also eat stale bread and other leftovers. Just make sure they’re not moldy or they may harm the birds. Be aware that table scraps may attract nuisance species such as European Starlings, House Sparrows, rats, or raccoons.
Grit and Minerals:
Birds need grit as a digestive aid. Seed eaters, in particular, “chew” their food in their gizzard, a highly muscular part of the stomach. To assist in the grinding, they sometimes swallow hard materials such as tiny stones, sand, ashes, fragments of charcoal, or broken oyster shells. You can purchase grit at most feed and pet stores.
Eggshells are another source of grit, and they provide calcium, an important mineral for birds in the spring when they are producing their own eggs. If you provide eggshells, be sure to bake them for 20 minutes at 250 degrees F to kill Salmonella bacteria.
Let the eggshells cool, then crush them into pieces smaller than a dime. Offer the eggshells on the ground, in a dish, or on a low platform feeder, separate from your seed feeders.
Suet is particularly attractive to woodpeckers, such as the Red-bellied Woodpecker, but many insect-eating birds like nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, creepers, kinglets, and even cardinals are fond of it too. It’s a high-energy food, much appreciated in cold weather.
Suet is the hard fat surrounding beef kidneys. It is inexpensive and available from butchers and at many supermarket meat counters. Commercial suet cakes are manufactured from “rendered” suet, a process in which it is melted, cooked, and strained, making it less prone to melting and spoilage.
Avoid offering unprocessed suet in hot weather—it quickly becomes rancid. If you want to offer suet year-round, commercial suet cakes are preferable, but check the package recommendations. Another suggestion is to put out only small amounts of suet, keeping the rest refrigerated until needed.
A good warm-weather alternative to suet is a mixture of one part peanut butter to five parts cornmeal. Offer suet in a plastic mesh bag (like the sort onions are packaged in) or a wire basket or cage (this keeps the raccoons and squirrels out), suspended from a branch or attached to a tree trunk.
Starlings are very fond of suet. To dissuade these undesirables, offer suet in a feeder that requires birds to feed hanging upside down. Woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches will access it easily, but starlings cannot.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some safe foods to feed wild birds?
When feeding wild birds, it is important to provide them with a varied diet that includes safe foods. Some safe foods to feed wild birds include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Nyjer (thistle) seeds
- Safflower seeds
- Fresh fruit
How often should I feed wild birds?
The frequency at which you should feed wild birds depends on the season and the type of birds you are feeding. In general, it is recommended to feed wild birds once or twice a day, preferably in the morning and evening. During the winter months, it is important to provide birds with a consistent source of food as they struggle to find food in the snow.
Is it okay to feed wild birds mealworms?
Yes, it is safe to feed wild birds mealworms. Mealworms are a good source of protein for birds, especially during the breeding season. However, it is important to make sure that the mealworms you are feeding are fresh and not contaminated with any harmful bacteria.
What are some foods that can harm wild birds?
There are some foods that can harm wild birds and should be avoided. Some of these foods include:
- Bread and other baked goods
- Salty foods
Can I feed wild birds from my kitchen scraps?
While it may be tempting to feed wild birds with your kitchen scraps, it is not recommended. Kitchen scraps can contain harmful bacteria and mold that can be harmful to birds. It is best to stick to feeding birds with safe, commercially available birdseed and other foods.
Should I stop feeding wild birds in the summer?
While it is true that birds have access to more natural food sources during the summer months, it is still safe and beneficial to continue feeding them. Providing birds with a consistent source of food can help them thrive and survive during the breeding season. However, it is important to clean your bird feeders regularly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold.