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Feeding Wild Birds

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With so many different options of seeds out there, it can be difficult to know which one will work the best for you. Our Bird Feeding Chart will help you select the right type of food for the birds you want to attract and suggest the right type of feeder to present them in.  

Different species of birds prefer different seeds, but the seed that will help you attract the largest variety is the black-oil sunflower. This seed has a high meat-to-shell ratio and offers a lot of nutrition for it’s size. Other seeds to look for include both white and golden safflower, sunflower hearts, peanuts, corn and white millet.

Although sunflower seeds are the all-round favorite, particularly for tree-dwelling birds, some birds prefer different foods. Blackbirds particularly like corn, for instance, whereas doves, like many ground-feeding birds, prefer white millet or red milo. Certain species may even have different food preferences in different parts of their range. Experimenting with seed combinations and choice is always a sure way to find what attracts the most birds to your backyard.  

Always read what is in the seed mixes that you are buying. Some commercial seed mixes blend sunflower seeds with a higher proportion of "filler" such as millet, oats, wheat, flax, buckwheat seeds, and red milo. These other ingredients are often less appealing to the song birds that many bird lovers are trying to attract, although some ground birds find them desirable. If presented to the wrong crowd, these mixes can be wasteful because the birds pick out the prized sunflower seeds and leave the rest. If you can, try buying sacks of one type of seed, and make your own mixes. Then you know exactly what is in it.  

Always make sure to store your bird food carefully. If you buy a lot of seed, keep it in a dry, cool place and in a rodent-proof such as a metal can. Also, check the seed often for mold, and throw out any seed that looks questionable.  

Types of Feed  

Corn Feed: 

Dried whole kernel corn is a favorite food of jays, pigeons, doves, turkeys, pheasants, and quail, but will attract almost any feeder bird. Cracked corn is easier for smaller birds to eat, as it is in more manageable sizes, and will attract birds like blackbirds, finches, and sparrows, as well as the larger birds mentioned above. But along with your birds, squirrels love corn, whether it is in the feeder or still on the cob. Corn, placed in easily accessible areas, like around the base of tree trunks, must just be the trick to keep the squirrels from your bird feeders. Corn is best presented to birds in a platform or hopper feeder, because of the size of the kernels.  

Millet Feed: 

Millet is a small round seed about the size of the head of a pin and is an important addition to any seed mix. There are several different types of millet, but not all of them are desirable. White proso millet is light colored and the most popular with birds. Red and golden millet are somewhat less liked by birds and are harder to find in stores. Millet appeals to many ground-feeding birds, such as doves, juncos, and sparrows. But cardinals and buntings have found it considerably appealing too. However, it also attracts undesirable non-native species such as European Starlings and House Sparrows. Millet can be placed in a variety of feeders, such as hanging tubular feeders, hopper feeders, and tray feeders. It can also just be sprinkled on the ground. 

Milo Feed: 

Milo is a large, reddish, round seed and is often used as "filler" in many birdseed mixes. Most birds will only eat milo if there's nothing better. It has also been known to attract undesirable and aggressive birds such as cowbirds, starlings, and grackles.  

Safflower: 

A particular favorite of cardinals, safflower is a large, white seed, and is often more expensive than sunflower seeds. Gosbeaks, sparrows, doves, titmice, chickadees, and downy woodpeckers also like it. It's sometimes suggested for getting rid of undesirable species as it appeals to starlings, house sparrows, and squirrels. This is a perfect seed to offer in hopper, tube and platform feeders.  

Nyjer/Niger: 

Nyjer, also commonly known as thistle seed, is an extremely small black seed. It is a favorite among small finches such as goldfinches, purple finches, siskins, and redpolls. Nyjer is expensive, so it is important to offer it in specially-designed thistle seed feeders, which have tiny feeding ports that prevent spilling and dissuade larger birds. These feeders are generally a long tube feeder, or a mesh pouch. Nyjer can spoil rapidly in wet weather, so if your feeder does not protect well from the elements, change your seed frequently and only place it out in small amounts at a time.  

Sunflower: 

There are two types of sunflower seeds that are used, black-oil and striped. Generally, black-oil sunflower seeds attract the greatest variety of birds, because of their higher meat-to-shell ratio and high fat content. Also, it's small and thin-shelled, making it easy for smaller birds to handle it. Traditional striped sunflower seeds, that type that humans regularly consume, are larger and have thicker seed coats, making them more difficult for small birds to eat. It is best to offer this type of food in hopper, platform or tube type bird feeder. You'll attract Cardinals, Nuthatches, and finches, just to name a few. If you decide to only offer one type of seed, give black oil sunflower seed a try.  

Hulled Sunflower Seed: 

This is the same as regular sunflower seeds, except that the shell has been removed. It is more expensive option, and should be offered in a squirrel proof type feeder. The advantageous thing about offering shelled sunflower seeds is that there is no mess, since the birds will eat everything. Sometimes black-oil sunflower seed left on the ground, which fall from the feeders, prevents some plants from growing. If this is a concern in the area where you are feeding birds, try using hulled seed instead. You'll attract the same birds without the mess.  

Peanuts: 

Titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, cardinals, jays, many sparrows, and even Carolina Wrens are attracted to peanuts. They can be offered shelled or whole, but shelling them will help many of the smaller birds enjoy them. Peanut feeders are specially-designed wire-mesh cages, and are often cylindrical, but peanuts can also easily be offered in platform feeders.  

Mixed Seed: 

Mixed seed is generally referring to the commercial seed mixes that can be purchased at a store. As mixed seed typically contains high quantities of red millet and other fillers, preferred by ground-feeding birds, they are best offered sprinkled on the ground or on low or ground level platform feeders. Many feeder birds will not eat millet. Likewise, ground-feeding birds that favor millet will not have access to it if it is in a raised feeder. Try filling hanging feeders with black-oil sunflower seeds and spreading mixed seed for ground-feeding birds.  

Suet Feed: 

Suet is the hard fat surrounding beef kidneys. It is inexpensive and raw suet is 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. You should avoid offering unprocessed suet in hot weather, as with any  other meat, it will quickly become rancid. If you would like to offer suet year-round, commercial suet cakes are preferable, as they are processed, but check the package recommendations. Suet is particularly attractive to woodpeckers, but many insect-eating birds like nuthatches, chickadees, wrens, creepers, kinglets, and cardinals are fond of it too. Suet is a high-energy food, and is much appreciated by birds in the cold weather. A good warm-weather alternative to suet is a mixture of one part peanut butter to five parts cornmeal, as it will last longer in the summer. Suet should be offered in the specially designed suet cages. These can be suspended from a branch, attached to a tree trunk, or on the sides of hopper feeders. As aggressive starlings are very fond of suet, try using a feeder that requires birds to feed hanging upside down. Woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches will easily be able to accomplish this feat, but starlings cannot.  

Fruit and Fruit Seeds: 

Birds such as robins, thrushes, waxwings, orioles and bluebirds usually don't visit seed feeders because seeds are not a major part of their diet. But you can easily begin to attract them with fruit. Raisins or currants that have been softened by soaking in water, are good choices to sprinkle in with your feed, or you can simply offer diced fresh fruit, such as apples, melons, or grapes. Orange halves are particularly desirable, especially to orioles, which will also go for grape jelly. You can also try pumpkin and other squash or melon seeds, for the birds. They can be more than black-oil sunflower seeds. Make sure to let them dry and then run them through the food processor. This makes it easier for the smaller birds to eat them. 

 

Grit and Minerals: 

Although grit and minerals are not seeds, putting them out with your feed will attract birds because they need it as a digestive aid. Birds, especially the seed eaters, break up their food in their gizzard, a highly muscular part of their 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 great source of grit, as they also provide calcium, an important mineral for birds in the spring when they are producing their own eggs. If you provide eggshells, make sure to bake them for 20 minutes at 250 degrees F to kill the Salmonella bacteria. Let the eggshells cool, and then crush them into pieces smaller than a dime. Grit should be offered on the ground, in a dish, or on a low platform feeder, separate from your seed feeders.


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