Food for Wild Birds
If you read my article on what types of bird feeders are out there, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed. Don't be. You could probably throw some seed on the ground and the birds would be happy, but that would bring up a whole bunch of other issues.
Birds are used to getting their food from nature, but with their natural habitats being built up and natural food sources scare during the winter months, it's important for us to supplement their food so that they thrive. Birds are very beneficial in controlling insects and other bugs in our yards, so I think it's important to do what we can to keep them around. To find out more ways to attract birds to our landscapes, read this article.
Birdseed is probably the easiest thing to use to attract birds to your yard. Birdseed usually comes in large bags and can be purchased in most big box stores. Some of my birdseed I buy in 25-50 pound bags at a feed store and I buy smaller quantities at a specialty shop that specializes in feeding the birds. I seem to get the best quality and pricing by doing this.
Birdseed can go rancid if not stored properly or used up fast enough, so it's best to keep it in a cool location in an airtight container that is preferably metal since rodents will chew threw plastic to get to the birdseed.
If you are just starting out, you may want to start small, and get a total of 5 or 10 pounds of birdseed at a time until you can gauge just how much you can go threw in a month. In the summer, you are naturally going to go threw less birdseed than in the winter, so think about that when stocking up. I don't like to buy more than 2-3 weeks worth of seed at a time, especially in the summer. In the winter, I can usually store it a little longer because the storage shed I use is unheated and therefore it seems to last longer before going rancid.
Types of Birdseed
Black Oil Sunflower seed provides the calories and protein they need for energy and the shells are soft enough that the smaller birds can break them open. It can get a little messy around the feeder with the left over hulls so it can also be purchased already hulled, but I've found that most birds prefer to crack open the seeds themselves.
Penny Pincher Tip: If you can't afford a lot of seed or just want to keep it simple and want to attract the widest variety of birds, use black oil sunflower seed.
Striped Sunflower seeds are another good option if you want to attract larger birds like cardinals and blue jays. Small birds may find them difficult to open. Again, the hulls left behind can get a little messy, but it's fairly easy to rake up the shells and compost them.
Penny Pincher Tip: Striped sunflower seeds are also a little less expensive than black oil seeds, so I like to buy both and mix them up to save money.
Nyjer or Thistle seed is very popular with finches and is best served in a tube feeder all it's own. It is also found in standard canary and finch seed mixes, but I prefer to serve it all by itself. A little of this goes a long way, especially if you are not sure how many finches you will actually have in your yard, so there is no need to buy more than a few pounds at a time, at least starting out.
You can also buy thistle socks that are basically disposable once the seed is gone. You can view one style here. They are perfect if you are just starting out.
Cracked Corn is a good option if you want to attract birds that do not normally come to bird feeders such as pheasants, quail, ducks and bluebirds. It would be best to serve cracked corn on a ground platform feeder, if this is your goal, but be warned, squirrels, black birds, starlings, rabbits, and rodents will be attracted to it. It is inexpensive though, so mixing a small amount into your seed mix can help keep your costs down. We feed mallard ducks all summer, so I always have some on hand to mix in with my other birdseed.
White Millet is a well liked among many small birds such as finches, doves, juncos, sparrows and buntings and should be included in small quantities in any seed mix, in my opinion.
Penny Pincher Tip: White Millet is great to mix with thistle to put in your tube feeders for the finches and will help offset the cost of the thistle which is more expensive than millet.
Safflower seed is a favorite of cardinals and the bully birds and squirrels won't eat it, so if you have a pest problem, safflower is the way to go. It can take the songbirds a little time to get used to it, so slowly introduce it into your regular seed mix until all you are offering is the safflower seed.
Peanuts will attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, creepers, wrens, titmouse and blue jays. I like to mix shelled nuts in with my birdseed mix for the smaller birds and serve them straight up in the shell for the blue jays to feast on. Generally, I put the peanuts in the platform feeder in a corner along with the regular birdseed, but occasionally I put them in their own feeder like the ones you saw pictured in my last article. The advantage to having them in their own feeder is that the birds will stay on the feeder longer digging out the nuts, so you can observe them better.
Peanuts can be roasted but should be unsalted when using them to feed the birds. You can find them relatively inexpensively at a feed store or specialty store that sells birdseed. If you can't find them there, buy the cheapest nuts you can find in a can, just make sure there is no salt in them.
I've also seen other nuts mixed in with birdseed such as cashews and walnuts. I find them to be a little too expensive to buy exclusively for feeding the birds, but if you happen to have some unsalted ones lying around, by all means include them in your bird feeding routine if you have no other use for them.
I prefer to mix my own seed blends as premixed blends in the store can have a lot of filler seeds and debris in them that the birds won't eat. Good quality seed mixes are available but much more expensive than mixing your own. Avoid red millet or milo at all costs because it is just a waste of money and the birds won't eat it.
Here is my favorite bird seed blend:
3 parts black oil sunflower, 2 parts striped sunflower, 1 part cracked corn, 1 part white millet, 1 part safflower, and 1 part shelled peanuts. Mix well and place in any type of feeder. If using a tube feeder, make sure feeding holes are large enough.
Offering fruit to the birds will attract a bunch of birds that don't normally eat seed such as orioles, robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, bluebirds and tanagers. Kingbirds, blackbirds, sparrows and some warblers will also eat fruit when offered to them.
You will get these types of birds at your feeders when their regular food supply is scarce. Try putting orange or grapefruit halves on a nail that has been attached to a board and hung on the side of a tree. To see a lot of different birds than you normally would offer fruits during migration and early spring. Offer sliced apples, bananas, berries, melons, and grapes in a small dish.
Penny Pincher Tip: Get marked down blemished fruit at your grocery store and feed it to the birds or buy at the farmer's market where prices are usually lower.
Orioles, mockingbirds and robins will also eat grape jelly, which is why you may see little cups on many fruit feeders.