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What a Bird Wants: (Part 1) Seeds

Saying a thin person eats like a bird is a misnomer. For their body size, birds require a lot of food for their high metabolism. Birds don’t just want food; they require it. To make the search easier, we can feed them.

Feeding birds is a rewarding way to enjoy wildlife. To gain the most satisfying experience, select a feeder and food that best suits your desires.

Humans have been feeding birds for a very long time. Written testaments talk about leaving behind some of the harvest for birds to glean. The custom of putting out bundles of wheat for the birds may have originated from this humble beginning. Today more than 50 million Americans put out food for birds each year.

You can watch the wonders of nature from the comfort of your own home. Feeding birds is fascinating (and educational) for all ages. You will invariably learn about the birds that visit. Simply observing birds will help you learn about behaviors, identifications, personalities, and other aspects of your local avifauna. For many urban birders, the birds they see at their feeders may be the only wild animals they have the chance to interact with. This can be an ideal activity for senior citizens, individuals with limited mobility, or young children to get their first exposure to nature. Feeding and bird-friendly landscaping (or birdscaping) can help replace resources lost from development, helping us create a more harmonious environment.

The size of a bird's beak helps determine what seed it likes. The smaller a beak is, the less able it will be to consume large seeds.


Sunflower seeds are the most universally attractive seed to our backyard birds. They attract the greatest range of birds (from tiny goldfinches, to chickadees, to larger birds like blue jays and cardinals). When in doubt, start with black oil sunflower seeds. The shells on black oil seeds are thinner, allowing birds of all sizes to crack the shell open. The larger and thicker shelled sunflower seeds (striped sunflower) attract bigger beaked birds like the grosbeaks, cardinals, and blue jays. All sunflower seeds are favored by squirrels, especially the striped sunflower seeds. 

Safflower, though it is sometimes referred to as the white sunflower, isn’t a true sunflower but you can still have the benefits of sunflower seeds while excluding some of the undesirable birds and critters. Blue jays and squirrels normally do not like these seeds! Try these seeds in a hopper feeder for the greatest success. 


Thistle seed is very tiny and it is highly attractive to small birds like goldfinches. Other choices would be a finch mix and sunflower hearts. To keep the thistle seeds from spilling out, use a special tube or sock feeder. These are designed with smaller openings to mimic the bird’s natural feeding style.

While squirrels and other large kritters do not like the tiny seeds, they will consume sunflower hearts. Nevertheless, offering sunflower hearts is a wonderful way to appeal to an even wider spectrum of birds. If offering the hearts, smaller beaked birds, like the Carolina Wren, can now enjoy the bounty.


Many ground feeding birds, like juncos, doves, and red-wing blackbirds, love millet and cracked corn. The hard shell of millet seeds helps keep it fresh even if it spills on the ground. These seeds are often considered fillers in seed mixes.


Peanuts are a high energy food favored by many birds. They’ll last long if offered in tube-shaped metal mesh feeders designed for peanuts. Like corn, peanuts are in most critter mixes and will make squirrels exceedingly happy.


Commercially made suet cakes fit the standard-size suet feeder. These are ideal for woodpeckers. Being composed largely of rendered fat, they are a high energy food for many birds. If starlings become problematic, offer suet cakes in an upside down suet feeder. Beyond suet, these birds will also consume mealworms.


Hummingbirds get their daily protein intake from consuming tiny insects like fruit flies. But the bulk of their diet is nectar from flowers. Offering a sugar solution will provide them a valuable food resource. Orioles are likely to sip the sugar solution, too. Orioles will also appreciate halved oranges and jelly.

Most human foods should not be fed to birds. Bread provides no real nutritional value to birds and moldy bread can be downright harmful. Chocolate is poisonous to birds. Table scraps may be healthy but are likely to attract mice. Always select fresh, quality food for birds. Keep the feeders clean and place them in an open area to help prevent feeding birds being preyed upon.

To practice best health practices, clean the feeders regularly and wash hands after feeding.

Feeding birds is a wonderful way to reconnect with the world in which we live and some of its most beautiful and interesting inhabitants. Be amazed with the array of feathered friends that will rely on you.


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