Feb 3, 2015 | 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.

What do you think? Tell us!

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  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019
  • This is exactly my experience. The local feed store had some on sale so I thought I'd try some. Actually I was shocked at how it is avoided, and I've been feeding birds for more than 40 years. I suppose I've never had it out as the ONLY food source, but when I put it out along with the blackoil, peanuts, cracked corn and suet cakes, absolutely nothing would touch it. Even when I dumped some on the ground the rabbits wouldn't eat it, nor would the squirrels. Eventually some turkeys and deer ate some--when they could find nothing else underneath the other feeders. But even they left plenty on the ground which they NEVER do with cracked corn, sunflower, etc.Every person should try some if they're inclined and decide for themselves since every situation may be a bit different, but for me/my species, safflower is a big no.
    by Colin Croft, Sun, 03 Mar 2019
  • I have questions about the Zick Dough? It says not to use in cold weather. It is still in the 40s here. Too soon? How long should I expect a supply to last? And, use a tray feeder? Thanks.
    by martindf, Sun, 25 Nov 2018
  • Glad I found this. I'm a snowbird and was worried about all the birds that come to feed at my birdfeeder. I have Cardinals, sparrows, doves, Blue Jays, chickadees. I hope they'll find food elsewhere while I'm gone.
    by Donna, Sat, 03 Nov 2018