what’s the best bird feed

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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Never offer corn covered in a red dye. Corn that is meant to be planted is frequently treated with fungicides and labeled with a warning red dye. It is highly toxic to humans, livestock, and all birds.

Never offer buttered popcorn or any kind of microwave popcorn. Popped corn spoils quickly.

On tray feeders, corn should be provided in relatively small amounts at a time. Don’t offer it in tube feeders that could harbor moisture.

Jays, crows, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, and many other species love peanuts, but squirrels, bears, raccoons, and other animals that shouldn’t be supported also like peanuts. Similar to corn, peanuts are highly likely to contain aflatoxins, so they need to be kept dry and consumed quickly.

If jays arrive at the feeders before the squirrels, you can offer them as a special treat by placing peanuts in their shells on platform feeders, directly on a deck railing, or in a window feeder. In the event that peanuts or mixes of peanuts and other seeds are provided in tube feeders, be sure to regularly replace the seed, especially in the event of rainy or humid weather, and to thoroughly empty and clean the tube each time.

Milo is a favorite with many Western ground-feeding birds. In tests of seed preferences conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Steller’s Jays, Curve-billed Thrashers, and Gambel’s Quails favored milo over sunflower. In a different study, cowbirds consumed milo while house sparrows did not.

Milo ought to be strewn about on low tray feeders or the ground. Stop offering it if you’re subsidizing cowbirds.

Golden millet, red millet, flax, and others

Although packaged bird seed mixes frequently contain these seeds as fillers, the majority of birds avoid them. Waste seed quickly contaminates fresh seed by serving as a haven for bacteria and fungi. Verify the ingredients list of bird seed mixtures and steer clear of ones that contain these seeds. Specifically, ensure that the small, red seeds in a seed mix are milo or sorghum and not red millet if there are a lot of them.

Shelled and cracked corn

Among the many species that consume corn are the cardinals, grosbeaks, grouse, pheasants, turkeys, quails, jays, doves, ducks, cranes, and crows. Unfortunately, corn has two serious problems. First of all, House Sparrows, cowbirds, starlings, geese, bears, raccoons, and deer all like it; none of them should receive our financial assistance. Second, aflatoxins, which are extremely toxic even at low levels, are most likely to contaminate corn as bird food. Never purchase corn in plastic bags, keep it dry, don’t give it in quantities too large to eat in one sitting during rainy or extremely humid weather, and be sure to rake up any leftover corn.

FAQ

What is the best feed for birds?

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.

What food do wild birds like the most?

When buying bird food, try to get a good mix of peanuts, seeds and live food like mealworms and waxworms. Fruit, especially bruised apples and pears, will be popular with thrushes and Blackbirds. Household scraps like pastry, cooked rice and breadcrumbs should only be offered in small amounts occasionally.

What bird seeds to avoid?

But, the cheap filler seeds in economy mixes, such as wheat, cracked corn, milo, and oats, are not birds’ favorite foods. These grains have less overall nutrition and only appeal to a limited number of bird species. They may even be tossed out of a feeder or left to spoil and rot.

What is the cheapest way to feed wild birds?

Other bird seed alternatives to offer to birds include fruit and vegetable seeds, dried fruits, peanut butter and/or jelly, apples, pears, nuts, and unbuttered popcorn.