Bird Seed 101
With so many different options, it is nearly impossible to narrow down what bird feed is best for your backyard birds. It can be overwhelming and tedious to try to research what seed option is going to be a hit in your feeders. There are also, so many factors to take into account; the climate, landscape, your geographical location, and time of year. These things all play a role in what bird feed you may choose to use in your feeders.
This guide will hopefully help you narrow down your options, and give you some insight on what to lookout for when buying your feathered friends a snack.
Why Feed the Birds?
Let’s kick it off with the basics, why bother feeding the birds? Don’t they have enough natural food outside? Is it even worth the money?
There is no short answer for any of these questions. Simply saying that birds are an important aspect of any ecosystem is not enough. Birds help us understand the health of our environment. Because of their quick response to environmental changes, they are an early-warning system for pressing concerns. Our feathery friends also have built-in pest control, seed spreading, and pollinating. Although it might seem extreme to say that ecosystems would collapse without birds, it isn’t that extreme. The effects of losing birds would be detrimental to humans, other animals, and the environment. So, all things considered, birds are super important and feeding them is just as important.
Although it may seem like they have enough resources for food naturally, sometimes they don’t. Not all birds migrate during the cold months. Insects, berries, and other sources of food are scarce during those months, making it extremely hard for our non-migratory friends to stay fed. Offering good food and keeping your feeders full will do so much for your backyard birds. The nutritious snacks that you offer help keep our bird friends energy high, allowing them to generate more body heat and in turn stay warm. Even throughout the warmer weather, keeping your feeders maintained is a great idea. It helps to give our feathered friends another option of food if they would like!
What Bird Seed is Best?
Alright, so there isn’t necessarily one right answer to what bird seed is best for feeding your flying friends. However, we have the tips and tricks on what to feed, how to do it, and who it should attract!
There are a few tips that we’d like to share with you from our personal experience and research, before we get into all the seed know-how.
- Choose your seed based on what you already have in your backyard. This means, if you have house sparrows coming to your feeders already pick black oil sunflower seeds or a blended seed mix with black oil sunflower seeds in it.
- By following tip #1 you’ll not only see your frequenting feathery friends but also, other species of birds. Birds are intelligent and go where there is food. If they notice a lot of sparrows flocking to your yard, they want to check it out too.
- Take into account the different attributes of birds you are attracting and cater your seed choice accordingly. Look at the bill shape (ie. big and strong bills mean they can crack bigger and harder seeds), nutritional needs (ie. are you in an urban area that doesn’t have a lot of natural food options?), both of these are important so that you aren’t wasting your money on the wrong type of seed!
- Don’t just fill your feeders, sprinkle some seed on the ground below your feeders. If you happen to have some bushes or tall grass close by, we recommend spreading some seed there too. This gives you a wider variety of what kinds of birds are going to come feed. You give the ground feeding birds coverage and snacks just for them.
Onto the seed types and what you need to know in order to make your decision on what to feed your feathery friends out back.
The holy grail of bird seed, sunflower seeds are by far the most well known and most popular of all bird seed options. You can choose black oil, striped, or hulled sunflower seeds to use in your feeder but, what’s the difference between them and are there added benefits to choosing one over the other?
The crowd favourite and most familiar version of sunflower seeds is the black oil. Not only is it relatively cheap to buy, it also attracts all different types of birds. Black Oil sunflower seed are cultivated to have a higher fat content, this makes them especially good to use for feeding during breading season and the cold weather. It is an extremely nutrient-dense snack, meatier and more nutritious than other options, making it obvious why so many Birders choose to have their feeders filled with it. The thinner shells of the black oil sunflower seeds make it easier for your feathery friends of all sizes to crack open and get at the tasty treat inside.
Striped sunflower seeds are also popular however, they generally are found in blends. This is because their shells are a lot hard than that of the black oil, making it hard for smaller birds or those with not as strong bills to crack the shell. Much like the black oil sunflower seeds, striped sunflower is meatier and more nutritious than a lot of other options out there. When mixed with a variety of other seeds, you will see big and small birds at your feeders.
The Bugatti of sunflower seed, Hulled sunflower seeds are very popular amongst Birders and their flying friends. Just like it’s shelled counterparts, this snack is a wonderful source of fat, fibre, protein, and vitamins! The ease of not having to husk the seed makes hulled sunflower seeds especially appealing to your bird friends. Many Birders opt for this same reason, there’s no mess of husks to try and clean up afterwards. The only real downside to hulled sunflower seeds is that they will need a bit more protection from weather, bully birds, and possibly our furry friends.
All in all sunflower seed, regardless of which option you choose, are always going to be gobbled up by your backyard birds.
Not originally from North America, Safflower has recently been gaining popularity amongst Birders. This seed is slightly smaller than sunflower seeds, keeping the similar taper shaped however, the taste is quite different. Holding a bit of a bitter taste, Safflower does take a little bit for birds to get used to. We recommend gradually mixing it with a black oil sunflower seed so that your birds can sample it. Because of it’s bitter taste, you will notice that squirrels and other wildlife tend to leave it be! Just like the sunflower seeds, Safflower is also high in protein, fat, and fibre making it a top tier snack.
Commonly known as niger or thistle seed, this tiny little seed is a finch favourite! Being high in oil makes it a nutritious source of energy for winter finches and other seed eating birds. Offering nyjer year-round, especially in the winter, is a must as most of your seed gobbling friends are year-round residents. Nyjer is ideal for birds with smaller, sharply pointed bills as it is easier for them to crack the shells and get at the meat. We sometimes refer to the birds that like this little seed as “clinging birds” because of the acrobatics they perform by clinging to the sides of feeders. You will find that your furry friends won’t try to get after your nyjer as much because it doesn’t reap the same hearty rewards as sunflower seeds!
This tiny grain is available in a variety of colours, although the most popular are white and red. Despite being so small, millet is packed with key nutritional components that are invaluable to your feathery friends. It has 12% protein, 8% fibre, 4% fat, and contains high levels of calcium, B vitamins, and magnesium to name a few, making it beneficial to feed to your birds. Millet is often found in blends however, you can buy just millet and then mix it yourself with a black oil sunflower seed or whatever you prefer.
With a high fat and protein content, peanuts are a great calorie booster for you to put out for your backyard friends. Whether you’re choosing peanut halves or peanuts in shells, you cannot go wrong by using these in your feeders. The benefit of peanut halves over peanuts in shells is that it is far easier for all types of birds to eat them. The smaller birds will take them and crack them into littler, bite-sized pieces and the bigger birds will rat them easily. Both options of peanuts are able to be a grab-and-go snack for birds, letting them take them back to their nests and store them. Whatever falls below your feeders will be eaten by the ground feeding birds.
Although you may be deterred to feed peanuts at your feeders because of our crafty furry friends, we have a solution for you. Try having a separate spot for them, if you are able to. Even a peanut wreath or peanut feeder, to help stimulate them and make them work a bit harder for the reward will do wonders. You will find if you put it far enough away from your feeders for your birds that they will be more inclined to go for the easier to get at snack.
Albeit corn is often looked at as a filler in seed blends, it is still a good option for you to have in your feeding arsenal. Cut corn often varies in kernel shape and size, making it easy for all birds to eat. It is rich in both protein and fibre so it is definitely an excellent ulterior option for you to use. Any kernels that fall onto the ground will be eaten by the ground feeding birds, so you don’t have to worry about cleaning it up. We also recommend scattering some near bushes and tall grass, so you invite more ground feeders to your feeding ground. Cobs of corn are great as well, as bigger birds will pick away at it and scatter some onto the ground for the smaller birds. This is also a great treat to use as a distraction for bigger birds and other wildlife. It is an inexpensive option that you will not regret using and adding to your feeders.
Blends are great, if you pick the right ones and know what to look out for. When you’re looking to buy a pre-blended seed mix there are a few key things to watch for:
- Does it have Milo in it? Milo is a cheap bird seed that is used as a filler. Quality seed blends won’t use this, instead if they do use a filler it will be cut corn.
- CHECK THE INGREDIENTS! We cannot stress this enough. You want to look for higher proportions of the above seeds and less fillers (milo, oats, wheat). Make sure your seed wasn’t treated with pesticides or insecticides as this can be harmful for your feathered friends.
- Freshness is key. Before you buy your seed make sure there is no mould, mildew, or insects (ie. worms, moths, etc.). Bad seed can be fatal.
- The packaging says a lot. Generally you will want a bag that is study plastic or a coated paper bag. Look for clear packaging, as this will allow you to inspect the seed you are about to buy.
With all these things in mind, it can still seem overwhelming to try and pick what is best to fill your feeders with. This brings us to our #1 tip: ask us! We are always here to help answer any questions and ease any uncertainties you may have when it comes to feeding your backyard birds.
See the table below for a very condensed list on which birds love which seeds! *this list is not at all a complete list, it is just a tool to get you started*