Almost Everything You Wanted to Know About Birdseed

Third of a Series—More Seeds and Suet, Too

Safflower is a favorite seed at our house because we generally have at least one male and one female cardinal every morning in our yard. A safflower seed looks like a plain, white sunflower seed. It’s a large, oval seed with a thick shell. Birds that feed on safflower seeds need to have sturdy bills to crack the seeds. That’s why you’ll see cardinals, nuthatches, jays, woodpeckers, and house finches feeding on safflower seeds.

Because squirrels seem to ignore safflower seeds—it’s said to have a bitter taste, but we’ve never tried it—you can use a platform or hopper feeder without fear of seed pirates. We’ve observed that cardinals can feed more easily on a platform than a small perch, so that’s what we use. philip-brown-542180-unsplash

Nyjer seed is popular in our backyard because we attract a lot of finches. Apparently, it’s their idea of good eating. The seeds are small, black, and exceptionally high in oil (which makes them especially good for winter feeding). Because the seeds are so tiny, though, they are susceptible to blowing away in high winds or being spilled by some of your more enthusiastic dinner guests. That’s why mesh feeders are recommended.

By the way, even though the seed is small, it does have a shell and shell debris will collect under the feeder. The good news is that the seeds are imported from India and Africa, so they are sterilized when they came into the country, assuring that they won’t sprout.

Cracked or Whole Kernel Corn has a high carbohydrate content which will attract a number of backyard bids—bluebirds, jays, sparrows, blackbirds, doves, and towhees—as well as game birds like grouse, quail, grackles, ducks, and wild turkeys.

Cracked corn is best served on platform feeders or trays . . . or scattered directly on the ground.

Although we know that cracked corn will attract birds we don’t normally see in our yard, we have shied away from using it. The red flag for us, unfortunately, is that along with some bird species we would love to watch, cracked corn also attracts pesky squirrels and other (even less desirable) rodents, as well as raccoons and opossums.

Millet is a small white seed that you’ll often see in birdseed mixes, but you can also buy millet separately. You can use millet in tube feeders, hoppers, tray feeders, platform feeders or spread it directly on the ground.

Millet can attract buntings, doves, juncos, quail, and wild turkeys.

Premium Mix is usually defined as a smorgasbord of black oil sunflower, peanut, millet, striped sunflower, and other seeds all mixed together. The idea is that all of the different seeds will attract a variety of birds.

Although we started with premium mixes, we soon found that when you cater to every bird, some of the bully birds will chase the prettier (or, in birder speak—“more desirable”) birds away.

Cheap Mixes are generally an assortment of seeds like red and white milo, cracked corn, wheat, striped sunflower, and other random seeds. Although price is a consideration for most of us, when it comes to cheap mixes, most birders become a little snobbish.  That’s because, since cheap mixes are generally similar to what’s used in the commercial poultry industry, they rarely attract the birds you want to see in your yard.

Suet isn’t bird seed. It’s made from beef fat. We included it in this blog because a great many birds—especially woodpeckers—are attracted to suet in our yard. Most stores that sell bird seed, also sell suet. It will generally be mixed with bird seed, or berries, or peanut butter.

You’ll need a special suet feeder. Along with woodpeckers, back capped chickadees, nuthatches, and wrens will be attracted to your suet feeder.

Things to know when you buy birdseed—

Freshness counts. Check for signs of mold or mildew. Make sure there aren’t a lot of empty hulls. And check to be sure there’s no indication of insect infestation . . . look for clumps, webbing, or even feces.

Ingredients. If it’s a mix, the ingredient list should include proportions of each seed in the bag. Also, make sure that nothing listed is a pesticide or other chemical that could be injurious or toxic to birds.

Packaging. We like buying seed that comes in a sturdy, plastic clear bag that lets us check out the seeds before we get them home. There are places like farm and feed stores, though, where we’ve found quality seeds loose in bulk containers. That’s a great way to make sure you’re getting what you pay for and you can buy precisely the quantity you need.

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