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.

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