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Backyard Bird Feeding in North Dakota

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:

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

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.

Sunflower Chips and Hearts

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.
Photos: Scott Gomes

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