Jan 29, 2020 | Featured Web Article

Making a Good Match: Bird Seed and Bird Feeders

A red-breasted nuthatch visits a backyard feeder. Photo by Heather Poole.
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Would you frequent a restaurant that served your sandwich on the floor and dog food on the table? That's the human equivalent of offering birds inexpensive mixed seed in a hanging feeder. Cheap birdseed mixes usually contain a high proportion of milo, wheat, millet, and cracked corn. Such ingredients are fine for many ground-feeding birds, such as doves, blackbirds, quail, and sparrows, but not the favorite foods of birds that naturally eat above the ground, such as chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, and grosbeaks.

Tube feeders are among the most popular types of hanging bird feeders, and can have tiny holes suitable only for thistle seed (Nyjer) for finches, or large ports for offering sunflower or safflower seeds or a seed mix intended for above-ground-feeding species.

What's in a seed mix suitable for a hanging feeder? Sunflower, safflower, peanuts, and/or dried fruit, and maybe a bit of white proso millet. Read the ingredient list before buying a seed blend to determine whether it is more suitable for ground-feeding birds or birds that prefer to eat well above the ground.

Low-end mixed seed offered in tube or hopper feeders will likely attract house sparrows and starlings. Other species that visit the feeder will ignore the seeds they dislike or throw them on the ground and go for sunflower seeds and other preferred food items. When their favorite seeds are gone, they'll ignore the feeder, even if it's not empty. A cheap seed mix is no bargain if the birds you enjoy most won't eat it. Discard unconsumed seeds after a few days to avoid spoilage, and try to figure out why your dinner invitation was declined. It may be a simple matter of offering the same seed at a different location, such as on a platform feeder close to the ground, or even scattered directly on the ground.

Here's a list of common yard birds and the foods they like best. Use it strategically to attract birds that you know are in your area but that don't visit your feeders. It can be a fun challenge to see how many bird species accept your invitation to dine. Offer a variety of foods in a variety of appropriate feeders to attract the widest variety of birds.

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    by Frank Barch, Sat, 02 Jan 2021
  • I have the same situation. The feeder is attached to the middle of a large picture window that goes ceiling to floor w/ no ledge or sill for animals to climb or balance. Yet every morning all the sunflower seeds have been cracked open and hulls left. Any ideas what it is?
    by Liza Fox, Sun, 15 Nov 2020
  • I have a bird feeder that sticks to my window and I've been hearing noises against the window at night right now its going on. But whatever it is it is aware of me. And when I get to window it leaves.I can't imagine a squirrel or mouse or possom being able to get at it. ...So as I was reading this article im to assume no bird eats at night. Or no birds will eat at night. Why is that? Then im also thinking of a sinereo that could a lost confused bird eat at night. This eating thing is watching meI turn out the light go there noise dissappears..Thank you.
    by Nosferatu, Thu, 05 Nov 2020
  • I have metal baffles (cones) on my pole for my bird feeders. Something is still tempting them at night. What else could it be? Deer???
    by Ella Spencer Connolly, Thu, 27 Aug 2020
  • I found where he lives, then I keep him up all day by singing at full volume! Hah, that'll show the little sucker!
    by Pike Juan, Tue, 11 Aug 2020