what is the best food for small birds

Sparrows, juncos, and towhees usually feed on the ground, while finches and cardinals feed in shrubs, and chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers feed in trees. To avoid crowding and to attract the greatest variety of species, provide table-like feeders for ground-feeding birds, hopper or tube feeders for shrub and treetop feeders, and suet feeders well off the ground for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees.

A diverse mix of seeds will attract the greatest variety of birds. To avoid waste, offer different seeds in different feeders. Black oil sunflower seed appeals to the greatest number of birds. Offer sunflower seeds, nyjer (thistle) seeds, and peanuts in separate feeders. When using blends, choose mixtures containing sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn—the three most popular types of birdseed. Birds that are sunflower specialists will readily eat the sunflower seed and toss the millet and corn to the ground, to be eaten by ground-feeding birds such as sparrows and juncos. Mixtures of peanuts, nuts, and dried fruit attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, and titmice. A relatively few species prefer milo, wheat, and oats, which are featured in less expensive blends.

Suet (beef fat) attracts insect-eating birds such as woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice. Place the suet in special feeders or net onion bags at least five feet from the ground to keep it out of the reach of dogs. Do not put out suet during hot weather as it can turn rancid; also, dripping fat can damage natural waterproofing on bird feathers.

Peanut butter is a good substitute for suet in the summer. Mix one part peanut butter with five parts corn meal and stuff the mixture into holes drilled in a hanging log or into the crevices of a large pinecone. This all-season mixture attracts woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and occasionally warblers.

Fruit specialists such as robins, waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds rarely eat birdseed. To attract these birds, soak raisins and currants in water overnight, then place them on a table feeder, or purchase blends with a dried fruit mixture. To attract orioles and tanagers, skewer halved oranges onto a spike near other feeders, or supply nectar feeders.

Make a sugar solution of one part white sugar to four parts water. Boil briefly to sterilize and dissolve sugar crystals; no need to add red food coloring. Feeders must be washed every few days with very hot water and kept scrupulously clean to prevent the growth of mold.

Store seed in metal garbage cans with secure lids to protect it from squirrels and mice. Keep the cans in a cool, dry location; avoid storing in the heat. Damp seeds may grow mold that can be fatal to birds. Overheating can destroy the nutrition and taste of sunflower seeds. For these reasons, it’s best not to keep seed from one winter to the next.

Squirrels are best excluded by placing feeders on a pole in an open area. Pole-mounted feeders should be about five feet off the ground and protected by a cone-shaped baffle (at least 17 inches diameter) or similar obstacle below the feeder. Locate pole-mounted feeders at least 10 feet from the nearest shrub, tree, or other tall structure. Squirrel feeders stocked with blends that are especially attractive to squirrels and chipmunks can reduce competition for high-priced foods offered at bird feeders. Place squirrel feeders far from bird feeders to further reduce competition.

In the United States, approximately one billion birds die each year from flying into windows. Protect birds from collisions by placing feeders within three feet of windows, if possible. Mobiles and opaque decorations hanging outside windows also help to prevent bird strikes. Or attach fruit tree netting outside windows to deflect birds from the glass.

Cats kill hundreds of millions of birds annually in the United States, often pouncing on ground-feeding birds and those dazed by window collisions. Responsible and caring cat owners keep their cats indoors, where they are also safer from traffic, disease, and fights with other animals. Outdoor cats are especially dangerous to birds in the spring when fledglings are on the ground. Bells on cat collars are usually ineffective for deterring predation.

Uneaten seed can become soggy and grow deadly mold. Empty and clean feeders twice a year (spring and fall), or more often if feeders are used during humid summers. Using a long-handled bottlebrush, scrub with dish detergent and rinse with a powerful hose; then soak in a bucket of 10 percent non-chlorine bleach solution, rinse well, and dry in the sun. In early spring, rake up spilled grain and sunflower hulls.

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The best way to keep squirrels away is to put feeders on a pole in a public space. The ideal height for pole-mounted feeders is five feet, and they should be shielded from the elements below by a cone-shaped baffle with a minimum diameter of seventeen inches. Place feeders on poles at least ten feet away from the closest tree, shrub, or other tall structure. A squirrel feeder filled with mixtures that particularly appeal to squirrels and chipmunks can lessen the competition for the expensive food available at bird feeders. Place feeders for squirrels away from feeders for birds to further minimize competition.

Every year, about one billion birds in the United States perish as a result of flying into windows. If at all possible, place feeders three feet away from windows to prevent bird collisions. In addition to mobiles, opaque decorations hung outside windows also deter birds from striking windows. Alternatively, hang fruit tree netting outside windows to keep birds away from the glass.

Birds that specialize in fruit, like mockingbirds, robins, waxwings, and bluebirds, hardly ever consume birdseed. To draw these birds, either buy blends with a dried fruit mixture or soak raisins and currants in water for the entire night before placing them on a table feeder. Stick half-oranges on a stick next to other feeders to draw tanagers and orioles, or provide nectar feeders.

Put seed in metal trash cans with tight-fitting lids to keep rodents and squirrels away. Don’t store the cans in the heat; instead, keep them somewhere cool and dry. Mold that can kill birds can grow from wet seeds. Overheating can destroy the nutrition and taste of sunflower seeds. It’s advisable not to store seed from one winter to the next for these reasons.

Insect-eating birds like woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice are drawn to suet (beef fat). To keep the suet out of dogs’ reach, place it in special feeders or net onion bags that are at least five feet off the ground. Suet can go rancid in hot weather, so avoid leaving it outside. Additionally, dripping fat can harm the natural waterproofing on bird feathers.

Where should I put bird feeders?

Wherever they feel safe from predators—including roaming cats—birds are most likely to feed. Set feeders 12 feet away from bushes, trees, or brush piles. Predators are unable to conceal themselves within striking distance of the feeder, but birds can swiftly fly the distance of 12 feet to reach safe cover. Place thorny branches or chicken wire around ground-level feeders for additional protection.

How do I keep birds from colliding with windows?

Birds may become confused by windows that reflect the sky and surrounding trees or are extremely transparent, leading them to perceive a clear flight path instead of an obstruction.

Place feeders either more than 30 feet away from a window or closer than 3 feet to avoid collisions. A feeder three feet or less from a window keeps a bird from gaining enough momentum for a deadly collision, while one thirty feet or more away from a window offers protection from perplexing reflections.

Altering the appearance of your window helps, too. Hang streamers or use soap to create a scene outside the window. Additionally, you can space four inches apart static-cling decals that prevent bird strikes; some of these decals even reflect ultraviolet light that humans cannot see but that birds can see. If crashes persist, cover your windows with thin garden netting made of plastic to increase the odds that a bird making a wrong turn will survive. Make your backyard a safe place for wildlife.

Regardless of the size of your outdoor area, you can make it a refuge for nearby wildlife. You can change things in your own backyard by meeting basic needs like food, water, and shelter.


What do birds like to eat the most?

During the spring and summer months, most songbirds eat mainly insects and spiders. Insects are easy to find and catch, and are very nutritious. During fall and winter, however, birds that don’t migrate must eat fruits and seeds to survive.

What is the best bird seed for small birds?

Sunflower seeds are the seeds favored by most seed-eating birds, some 40 species including cardinals, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, house and purple finches, American goldfinches, brown-headed nuthatches, and red-bellied woodpeckers, to name a few.