What a Bird Wants:(Part 1) Seeds

Choosing the right feed for your birds can be a bit confusing. You want to attract as many species to your yard, without making it a full time job, and without breaking the bank. Knowing which seeds to use and where to use them can make everyone (especially your birds) happy!

Introduction to the seeds:


Safflower seeds are light in color, and have a bulbous end, and a pointed end.

Safflower is a member of the Thistle family. It has a high oil content that provides lots of energy that can be converted into body heat. Safflower is a favorite of Cardinals, also enjoyed by Tufted Titmouse, Chickadees and Nuthatches. Not a favorite of Blue Jays and Squirrels.

Safflower has long been used for its dyes and flavor. In more recent times,  the seeds have been used to extract a cooking oil similar to sunflower oil. Safflower is also used a cheap alternative to saffron in the kitchen. In the past couple of years, Safflower has been genetically modified to create insulin. Safflower-derived human insulin is currently being studied and developed for future use.

Safflower is a member of the thistle family. Traditionally the flowers are orange or yellow. Safflower has recently become an important plant for its potential as cooking oil and deriving human insulin. Those same oils help birds generate heat in cold weather.


Striped Sunflower Seed

These large seeds are essentially the same seeds that humans eat,  just on a small scale. These seeds are screened and sorted by size with the humans getting the larger, better quality seeds, and the birds getting the smaller seconds.

Striped Sunflowers are preferred by Blue Jays, Evening Grosbeaks, Tufted Titmice, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Chickadees and other songbirds. They are a great distraction food for large birds such as Grackles that can overwhelm small feeders and keep small songbirds away. They are also an inexpensive treat for squirrels. Use these seeds on an open platform feeder to keep large birds away from feeders.

Black Oil Sunflower

Black oil sunflower seeds are a highly nutritional food that will attract most songbirds to your yard. Use it is tube feeders and deck feeders. You should periodically clean up the empty shells from around the feeders to avoid the spread of disease.

Black oil is one of the most popular seeds in the backyard feeder. The shell of the seed is thin and easily broken by small birds. Inside the seed is one of the most nutrient-rich seeds, and has a high nutmeat to shell ratio. The high oil and fat content provide instant energy for birds, which is crucial in the winter.  It is recommended by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that black oil seeds be used year-round to promote healthy weight and energy in songbirds.

Black oil seeds are the most preferred seed, to the largest number of species. It seems that the only two species that do not prefer them are the Starling and  Tree sparrows.  Chickadees and nuthatches have been known to store Black oil  seeds for later consumption in the winter months, and remember where, and how many they have stored.

Black-capped Chickadees are social birds, and can be fed from your hand with some patience. They love black oil sunflowers and will store them for use during harsh weather and extreme temperatures.

Sunflower Hearts

These are  also known as hulled sunflower, chips and kernels.  Hulled sunflowers are usually sold as chips, but can also be found whole.  The benefit to a hulled sunflower is that birds waste no energy extracting the seed from the shell. Even birds that aren’t equipped to eat shelled seeds seem to dine on sunflower hearts.

Birds such as Robins, Bluebirds and Thrushes will dine on pieces from the ground. You may also choose to use a ground screen to place them on in the spring. This will keep the seed from getting lost and allow them to completely dry after rainfall.  Using the seed in moderation will prevent spoiling. Also use them in a feeder that is protected from the elements, such as a baffled feeder to further prevent rotting.

Sunflower hearts are a favorite of goldfinches. Be sure to keep the feed dry as its spoils quickly without a shell.

Nyjer “Thistle” Seed

Nyjer seed is cultivated in India and Ethiopia, as it has been for thousands of years. The Early-bird variety is grown here in the United States. Nyjer, is in fact, not thistle seed at all, nor is it related to a thistle. To prevent misunderstanding, the Wild Bird Feeding Industry trademarked the name Nyjer in 1998.

Nyjer seed is not thistle. It is often thought that Nyjer comes from Canadian Thistle (Cirsium arvense), an invasive weed.

All imported Nyjer is sterilized to prevent the accidental introduction of the noxious seed of the Dodder plant. The Dodder is a serious pest because it can parasitically attach itself to a host plant.

Nyjer seed is small, and quite costly, but birds really get the the bang from your buck. The seeds have high calorie content, and are high in fats and carbohydrates. It is a favorite feed of Goldfinches, Juncos and Redpols. I have even seen Carolina Wrens feeding from my Nyjer feeders this winter.

Nyjer seed is quite small and often misunderstood. It is a definite way to attract finches to your yard!

It is best to use a feeder specifically designed for Nyjer feeds. Nyjer socks are a quick, inexpensive and fun way to feed finches, and I have not had any trouble with the squirrels bothering them. Tube Nyjer feeders are another great option!

If your skeptical of sock feeders, try a small size out first. Then you can graduate to a larger size!


Peanuts are a must-have if you love squirrels and large birds. Even if you don’t love them, peanuts are a great distraction to keep them off of your songbird feeders! Peanuts and peanut pieces are a great alternative to sunflowers for Mourning doves and Blue jays and Woodpeckers of all kinds.

Flowerland offers both bulk and bagged peanuts.

The best place to display peanuts in the shell for birds, is a platform feeder. Here many birds can access them at once. It is not uncommon for smaller birds such as Chickadees to sneak in and steal the smaller peanuts. Peanuts will get moldy if not consumed fast enough, so put out accordingly.  Make sure to never feed birds salted peanuts!

A platform and peanut feeder are two examples of how you can present peanuts shelled, and not, to your birds.

There are feeders made specifically to keep squirrels away from peanut pieces. You can also use poles and baffles to keep them away from this special treat!


Cracked corn

Cracked corn is an excellent feed for ground birds and squirrels. It is preferred by Mourning doves, Blue jays, Juncos, Juncos and Woodpeckers. In the evening, depending on where you live, you may even see Pheasants feeding on it. Corn is high in carbohydrates and vitamin A.

Whole corn

A great choice for backyard critters, large birds, and woodpeckers! Corn is also available on the cob for feeding squirrels and deer and adventurous birds!

White Millet

White millet is a low-cost feed that is a favorite to doves, juncos, sparrows, towhees, quail, bobwhite and Indigo buntings. For other birds, it is their second choice after Black-oil Sunflower. Millet is best enjoyed by its fans, straight off the ground. It is also a very common seed to mix and blend with other seeds.

Millets are in the grass family Poaceae. They have a thin shell, that is easily broken by most birds, but prevents it from weather damage so it may be used on the ground.

Take some time to feed your feathered friends their favorites! It is always best to use a variety of seeds and feeders to attract the greatest amounts of species to your yard. A buffet for the birds will keep you coming back to your feeders for winter bird-watching enjoyment!

Happy Birding