Whether you live in the city, the suburbs or the country, chances are you have a number of different types of birds living in your backyard. It is easy to encourage those local feathered friends to visit your home using various kinds of birdseed and other food. Observing and feeding birds is an activity the whole family can try and enjoy. First, take a few minutes to learn about the types of seed and other items that are available as well as what the advantages are of each. The following questions will get you started:
• What types of seed attract different birds?
• Is a seed mixture or a single type of seed better?
• What other food items can be used to attract birds?
• Will the seed or feed you have selected require a special feeder?
• What can you do to create a more successful feeding area
Seed Types, Suet, Nectar and Feeding Tips
For the beginner, starting with a single bird feeder and a seed variety or mixture that attracts a wide range of birds is an excellent option. You may quickly find that a certain breed piques your interest and you would like to encourage more of them to frequent your feeder. Once you determine what the breed is and what seed options appeal most to that type of bird, you can add an additional feeder that caters to that breed. You may even employ a number of different feeders, each housing a different type of seed. For birds that do not eat seed, there are many ways you can appeal to their appetites as well, including suet cakes, nectar feeders and various fruits. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the birds in your area and plan your feeding stations accordingly.
Seed Types: Most people are familiar with seed mixtures. These are widely available and typically include a variety of seeds designed to appeal to a diverse range of birds. Less expensive options often include a considerable amount of "filler" seed that does not appeal to most birds. They usually discard the filler to get at the more desirable seeds. This can create a mess on the ground around bird feeders and can actually cost more over time. If you are looking for wide appeal with minimal waste and mess, black-oil sunflower seeds are a popular single-seed variety. They appeal to a large number of birds and offer a higher seed-to-shell ratio than striped sunflower seeds.The thin, papery shell makes it possible for smaller-beaked birds to enjoy them as well.
• Millet is available in both white and red varieties and is often used as a filler in seed mixtures
• Cracked corn is often included in mixed seed as well and appeals to ground-feeding birds such as quails,
doves and pheasants
• Peanuts are typically sold without the shell as most birds find their large hulls awkward and cumbersome
• Thistle, or nyjer, is a small black seed that appeals to various types of finches and siskins
• Safflower seeds attract cardinals and are not well liked by many squirrels.
Suet, Nectar and Other Feed: Suet is used to attract insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches. Pre-made suet cakes are made from beef fat and can include other ingredients such as nuts and berries. Plain suet is also usually available at most meat counters and butcher shops; it can be purchased and used to make your own cakes. Special wire or nylon mesh feeders can be hung from a tree or bird feeder to provide easy access to the suet for birds. It is not a good idea to use suet cakes in warmer weather as the oil can become rancid. A good alternative is peanut butter mixed with corn meal or other grains. Spread the peanut butter mixture directly on tree bark or form cakes to be placed in suet feeders. Birds that do not eat seeds can still be persuaded to make your yard a haven. Use both dried and fresh fruit to attract fruit-loving birds, such as mockingbirds and robins. Hummingbirds and orioles enjoy nectar feeders filled with a simple sugar-water solution.
• Thoroughly clean hummingbird and oriole feeders every few days to prevent buildup of harmful molds
• Make your own nectar solution by adding one cup of refined white sugar to four cups boiling water and
allow to cool
• Look for specially treated suet cakes that are safe for use during warm weather
• If you do not have a feeder for your suet cakes, simply use an onion bag for a quick homemade solution
• Cover pine cones with peanut butter and roll in nuts and other tasty treats and hang in trees for the birds
Tips and Hints: Keep all birdseed in a dry location, safe from rodents and other pests. A large plastic or metal garbage can or storage bin is a good option. Place feeders near shrubbery to make birds feel safe and provide them with a comfortable place to rest. Be sure to regularly clean feeders to reduce the spread of disease among bird populations; frequently change seed to prevent it from becoming stale or moldy. You can discourage squirrels by placing feeders at least 5' high and 8' away from potential springboards like tree trunks and limbs. If squirrels persist, consider mounting a baffle to your bird feeder pole. Provide birds with plenty of water for bathing and drinking. Before selecting a seed type, consult the following chart for general guidelines about what types of birds you will be attracting and some important points to consider.
Points to Consider
|Black-Oil Sunflower Seeds||Blue Jay, Cardinal, Chickadee, Evening Grosbeak, Goldfinch, House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Tufted Titmouse, Rufus-sided Towhee, Junco||• Most popular
• Attracts widest range of species
• Holds higher percentage of
• Thin, papery shell is easy
to remove for most birds
|Cracked Corn||Quail, Pheasant, Dove, Blackbird, Grackle, House Sparrow||• Often used as an ingredient
in seed mixtures
• Easily absorbs moisture and
is susceptible to rot
• Set out only a small amount on
a tray feeder or use a weather
- proof tube or hopper feeder
|Fruit||Mockingbird, Robin, Waxwing, Bluebird, Oriole, Tanager||• Place orange wedges, dried
fruit, and other items out for
|Millet||Fox Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Song Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow, Cardinal, Towhee, Quail, Junco, Red-winged Blackbird||• Choose from red or white
millet to attract different birds
• Often used as an ingredient
in seed mixtures
|Milo||Blue Jay, Mourning Dove, American Tree Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Pheasant, Quail, Dove||• Used to attract ground-
feeding birds in the
|Nectar||Hummingbird, Oriole||• Requires a special nectar feeder
• Must be cleaned every 2-3 days
• Make nectar with 1 part
sugar and 4 parts boiling water
then allow to cool
|Peanut Butter||Woodpecker, Titmice, Chickadee, Warbler||• Makes a good alternative to
suet in hot weather
|Peanuts||Woodpecker, Chickadee, Jay, Nuthatch, Creeper, Tufted Titmouse, Wren, Starling, Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler||• Already-shelled peanuts
appeal to a larger population
• Available in whole and
|Safflower Seeds||Cardinal||• Most squirrels and blackbirds
do not like safflower seeds
|Seed Mixtures||Depends on the contents of the mixture, consult package label for more details||• All-in-one solution for attracting
a wide range of birds
• Cheap mixtures can contain
high amounts of "filler" seed
|Suet||Chickadee, Common Flicker, Woodpecker, Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, Rufus-sided Towhee||• Made from beef fat
• Can be purchased in ready-to-
use cakes or make your own
• Can go rancid in high heat
• Prepared cakes may
include berries, nuts and
other food items
|Thistle (Nyjer)||Goldfinch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch||• Expensive
• Requires a special feeder
with smaller holes to
prevent seed loss
Hulled Sunflower Seeds: Striped sunflower seeds are a favorite among wild birds. However, the tough outer shell can be a hindrance to smaller-beaked birds. Fortunately, there are seeds available with the hulls already removed. While they are often more expensive, they are very popular with siskins, wrens, goldfinches and more.
Specialty Mixes: Look for seed mixtures designed to attract specific species of birds such as cardinals, finches and more.
Grit: Birds need grit to digest their food properly. You can purchase some and place it out on a flat surface near your feeders.