Birdseed is the most popular type of food to offer backyard birds, but there are many types of birdseed and not all of them appeal to all backyard birds. Understanding how to choose the best birdseed can help you offer the most desirable foods to your local birds, which can lead to attracting even more species to your feeders.
Choosing Seed With the Birds in Mind
The biggest bird-feeding mistake many novice backyard birders make is choosing birdseed for birds they hope to attract, not the birds already in their yard. Birds are gregarious, social creatures, and they will readily investigate any area of feeding activity. If you only have a few birds already in your yard, it is best to choose seed for those species first – as they get more active at feeding in your yard, other species will join in to see what offerings are at the buffet. Then you can add new types of birdseed and new feeders, gradually building up to a full-service birdseed restaurant.
Different birds have different birdseed preferences depending on their bill shape and nutritional needs. The most popular birdseeds and the birds that prefer them include:
- Sunflower Seeds: All types of sunflower seeds are excellent for backyard birds, and this type of seed is the best choice for beginning bird feeding in a variety of feeder styles. Black oil sunflower seeds are the most common and are great for most songbirds, while the larger striped sunflower seeds are suitable for larger birds with stronger bills. Hulled sunflower kernels and chips are also popular with smaller birds because they are easier to eat.
Birds: Chickadees, house finches, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, cardinals, sparrows, nuthatches, woodpeckers
- Nyjer: Small, thin Nyjer seeds are one of the most popular types of birdseed for small clinging finches. These seeds are high in oil, making them great for winter bird feeding. Because of their small size, however, Nyjer seeds can be light and easily spilled or blown away. Mesh-style or sock feeders are best for this expensive seed, and clinging birds will have no trouble feeding from these unique feeders.
Birds: Goldfinches, purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, quail
- Millet: These small white seeds are a common component of birdseed mixes and can be purchased separately for individual feeding if desired. This seed is useful in hopper and tube feeders, as well as for sprinkling on the ground or in tray or platform feeders.
Birds: Doves, sparrows, juncos, quail, buntings
- Safflower Seed: A large, oval seed with a white shell that looks like a white sunflower seed, safflower seed has a thick shell and the birds that prefer it need sturdy bills to crack the seeds. This is a popular seed choice in backyards where squirrels often raid feeders, because squirrels do not favor this seed as readily.
Birds: Cardinals, nuthatches, jays, woodpeckers, house finches
- Cracked Corn: Cracked corn is a less expensive seed often used as filler in birdseed mixes, but its high carbohydrate content makes it suitable for a number of backyard birds, particularly for ground-feeding birds that may have larger appetites. Birds that often feed on grain or are common in agricultural areas may favor cracked corn.
Birds: Sparrows, jays, towhees, grouse, quail, blackbirds, ducks, wild turkeys
- Milo: These large, BB-sized red seeds are not the best choice for most backyard birds, and they are often added to cheap birdseed mixes as a filler. While many birds will simply discard milo seed, it can still be useful for many ground-feeding species with hearty appetites.
Birds: Doves, ducks, quail
How to Choose Quality Birdseed
Not all birdseed is created equally, not even of the same type of seed. While birds are not typically picky about the food they eat, higher quality seed will attract more species and will provide better nutrition for healthy backyard flocks. To ensure the seed you buy is a good value and superior quality, look for...
- Mix Proportions: If choosing a blend of different seeds, opt for one with a higher proportion of better seeds such as sunflower or millet, with little room for fillers like milo and cracked corn.
- Freshness: Fresh seed will not have excessive dust, empty hulls or inedible debris in the mix. Also investigate the seed for any sign of mold, mildew or insect infestation.
- Quantity: Larger quantities of birdseed are often a better value at a bulk price, but only purchase seed you can feed to birds before it is stale or spoiled to avoid wasting money on seed that won't be used.
- Packaging: Better quality birdseed is often packaged in sturdy plastic or coated paper bags, possibly with easy-to-open tabs or handles for carrying. Look especially for clear packaging that allows inspection of the product before purchase.
- Ingredients: Check the ingredient list on every package of birdseed to ensure it has not been treated with pesticides or insecticides that can be toxic to birds. The list may also name the proportions of seeds used in different blends.
- Price: Higher prices do not necessarily mean higher quality seed. Sales are a great way to stock up on a supply of birdseed, and bulk purchases almost always are a better value than smaller packages.
The most important thing to remember when choosing birdseed is that not all birds enjoy seed. Adding other types of bird foods – suet, fruit, nectar and nuts – to your backyard buffet is the best way to attract birds. Many types of birds will sample seeds, and creating feeding stations that offer a range of different seeds and other foods is the most effective way to attract birds to your feeders.
Photo – Feeding Chickadee © Dawn