There are many types
of bird food available on the market today, In fact, there are well
over 25 different varieties of seeds available for feeding birds. Of
these, there are only about five we recommend for attracting a wide
variety of desirable birds to your yard. On the other side of the coin,
there are three types of food not to offer at your feeder. They are:
bread, cracked corn, and millet. These three types of food are highly
desirable by house sparrows and starlings. House sparrows and starlings
are undesirable exotic species that compete for nesting cavities with
our native songbirds such as bluebirds. Also, house sparrows can gather
in huge numbers at your feeder if you offer any of these three types
of food and eventually make quite a mess. There is also a mixture of
seed sold at hardware stores and large department chain stores known
as 'basic mix'. Basic mix is composed largely of millet, cracked corn,
and canary seed. None of these seeds are desirable by birds you want
to attract to your feeder. We recommend you stay away from basic mix
and use any or a combination of the following seeds:
Photos: Scott Gomes
Black Oil Sunflower
Black oil sunflower is the best seed to offer at your feeder. Over
forty different species of birds are attracted to black oil sunflower
that include chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, grosbeaks, mourning
doves, and redpolls. Birds find black oil sunflower so popular because
of its high energy content and excellent palatability. Black oil
sunflower is also popular among bird lovers because it is relatively
inexpensive and can be fed from tubes, platforms, or hopper feeders.
Be aware that empty hulls will accumulate on the ground underneath
the feeder. This area should be cleaned on a regular basis to avoid
attracting rodents such as mice or voles. The accumulation of hulls
can also kill your lawn, so place your feeder in an area where you
won't mind a bare spot.
Niger thistle is popular because it attracts many of the finch species
such as goldfinches and pine siskins. A special tube feeder that
has small slits for feeding ports is required to hold niger thistle.
Niger thistle is grown in Ethiopia and imported to the U.S. Niger
thistle is not a noxious weed like Canada thistle and is treated
at U.S. ports to prevent seed maturation and does not pose a threat
to domestic crops. Unfortunately, niger thistle costs about four
times as much as black oil sunflower per pound and is most expensive
when purchased in quantities under ten pounds.
Suet is high quality animal fat that appeals to many bird species
such as woodpeckers, grosbeaks, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays,
and orioles. Suet is sold at most grocery stores in the meat section
and is relatively inexpensive. Another option is to talk to a friend
that is a deer hunter. Songbirds will readily take to deer fat and,
more than likely, you can get it for free. The one problem with
offering raw suet is that it will turn rancid in warm weather. However,
you can purchase rendered suet cakes at bird feeding stores that
will keep in temperatures up to 100°. Commercial suet cakes
are inexpensive and placed in metal cages which can be hung from
a hopper feeder. In most cases, stores that sell rendered suet cakes
will also carry the metal cages.
Chips and hearts are the seeds of black oil sunflowers that have
been hulled. They cause less mess at feeding stations because there
are no hulls to clean from underneath your feeder. Of course, there
are drawbacks with feeding sunflower chips. They are more expensive,
absorb moisture more readily than niger thistle or black oil sunflower,
and will mold easily if they become wet.
Peanuts are becoming a popular item to offer at backyard bird feeders.
Peanut hearts and chips appeal especially to blue jays and white-throated
sparrows. You can mix small peanut chips with black oil sunflower
and offer the mixture in a tube feeder or hopper feeder.
By offering fruit at your feeder, you will be able to attract birds
that do not eat seeds such as orioles, cat birds, waxwings, and
robins. Slices of oranges, apples, bananas, and watermelon are the
most successful at attracting these species. Grape jelly, peanut
butter, and raisins will also attract non-seed eaters.
Section -- Welcome to Bird Feeding 101
Next Section -- Feeder Selection