I just wanted to take a moment and wish you all happy holidays. Thank you very much for your support of the Wild Bird Company over the past year (and beyond). A special thanks goes out to my family and friends for the support and to Wendy for all that she does for the store and customers. Wishing you all a very bird-filled New Year. May you always find the wonder and the joy of being outdoors.
Seeds for Attracting Wild Birds
Seeds for Attracting Wild Birds – Wild Bird Company Newsletter 12.12.17
Many of the bird feeder complaints I hear, seed waste, rodents, sprouting, and filling the feeder too often, could be fixed by proper seed choice. If you make the right seed choices it will bring in more birds and possibly cost less to feed them. The following are quick rules and tips about bird seed to help optimize your bird feeding and minimize your frustration.
Sunflower seed is the most attractive bird seed. Whatever you put out, sunflower should be the main component of your feeding system. All other seeds are just fine tuning. Sunflowers are a great source of fat and protein.
Black Oil Sunflower. Attracts a great variety of birds. Can be fed in tube, hopper, or platform feeders. The shell waste generated should be cleaned up periodically for the health of the birds.
Shelled or Hulled Sunflower. Will attract the greatest variety of birds compared to any other seed. It is also the cleanest bird seed. No shells, no sprouting. Hulled sunflower can also be fed in tube, hopper, and platform feeders. It generally costs about twice as much as oil sunflower, but the cleanliness is worth it to many customers. Use the medium chipped ones because they are more attractive to the birds and less expensive compared to the whole seeds (hearts) and the fine chips often turn into cement in your feeder.
Striped Sunflower. More expensive and less attractive than Oil Sunflower. Some larger species will eat them readily. Often put in mixes for its visual appeal to humans. Good on hopper and platform feeders, but I would avoid putting it in a tube feeder because it may clog the ports and many smaller species will pitch it aside getting to more desirable seeds.
Millet is attractive to ground feeding birds like sparrows and juncos. It should be presented on a platform or a hopper with a wide tray area, or on the ground itself. Millet is a carbohydrate and has a much longer shelf life compared to seeds containing fats which may turn rancid. Several millet varieties of various colors are found in seed mixes, but don’t confuse them with milo (sorghum) which is a larger round dark orange seed. If you feed millet in a tube feeder, the birds will either ignore it or toss it aside getting to the sunflowers. Not readily eaten by squirrels.
White Proso Millet. This is the most attractive variety of millet.
Red Proso Millet. Similar to white proso, but not quite as attractive.
Other Millets. Many varieties on the market. Some are referred to as German Millets. They come in an array of colors and none are as attractive as white proso.
Sometimes referred erroneously to as thistle, nyjer is a seed from a plant in the marigold family and it will not grow to maturity in North America. Therefore, all nyjer is imported from countries like Ethiopia, India, and Burma. It is steam processed before entering the country which usually makes it unable to germinate, but the processing is designed to kill other weed seeds that might enter in nyjer shipments. Nyjer is a very small black seed which is attractive to goldfinches, redpolls, and pine siskins. Some other species will eat it, but it is not a general purpose seed. It should be fed in a feeder designed for nyjer seed. Nyjer has a shell like a sunflower and it is very hard to tell if whole seeds or just the shells are lying below your feeder. Nyjer seed is prone to going stale, desiccating, or going rancid so you should never buy more than you can use in a few months’ time so that it stays fresh. A large portion of the nyjer sold in this country is already spoiled when customers buy it. Not a squirrel favorite.
Nuts are high in fat and protein and they are a preferred “seed” for many species.
In-shell nuts are convenient for birds that cache food like members of the crow family (jays, magpies, crows, nutcrackers). Shelled nuts are taken by those birds and many others like chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Some specialty nut feeders are on the market, but the most common way to feed them is on a platform.
In-shell Peanuts. A favorite for the crow family members. Both squirrels and birds tend to hide/bury these peanuts for later use.
Shelled Peanuts. These peanuts can be fed in a feeder similar to a suet feeder with smaller mesh. Birds that like shelled peanuts include chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, some wrens, jays, magpies, nutcrackers, and crows.
Tree Nuts. These nuts are sold as individual nuts or more often some blend of almonds, cashews, walnuts, filberts, and pistachios etc. They often come to the bird seed market because they were rejected for human consumption. They are readily consumed by the same birds that like shelled peanuts.
Safflower works best in a tube feeder with no other seeds mixed in. It is a seed used to fix either your squirrel problems or your grackle problems – it is not a great all-purpose food. If you are overrun by grackles and/or squirrels and cannot or are unwilling to prevent those critters from getting to your feeder, then safflower might be your answer. Both squirrels and grackles are not fond of safflower, but they will eat it. Safflower is an acquired taste for the birds, but no birds prefer safflower. I would avoid using mixes which contain safflower in hopper and tube feeders because it will tend to be tossed out by the birds trying to find better seeds.
Most songbirds do not like corn, but other larger species will come to it readily. Corn is for ground feeders and will work best fed on a platform. I would avoid using it in tube and hopper feeders. Mixes high in corn should only be used on a platform.
Shelled or Kernel Corn. A good and inexpensive food for attracting jays, ducks, geese, pheasants, and turkeys. Squirrels usually eat the germ and leave the rest of the kernel.
Ear Corn. Similar to shelled corn.
Cracked Corn. Has a broader appeal than kernel corn. Attracting sparrows, juncos, towhees, doves, and quail. Not a squirrel favorite.
Most bird seed mixes on the market contain filler seeds which make them inexpensive. However, these fillers get tossed aside by the birds and are eaten by rodents (other than squirrels), germinate, or go rotten. These seeds are the source of many bird feeder complaints.
Milo (Sorghum). The most common filler seed. Milo has been selectively grown over the decades specifically to make it not attractive to birds. It is used in cattle feed and the farmers did not want their crop eaten by the birds before they could harvest. Milo is a round seed, a bit larger than millet, and is a dark orange color. Some species in the southwest will eat it, but it is not preferred. I would avoid anything with milo in it. I sometimes see mixes in other stores which are mostly milo.s
Wheat Berries. These oval seeds are usually not in great quantities in bird seed mixes, but I would still avoid them because the birds just don’t eat them.
Steve’s Bird Seed Pet Peeves
Putting mixes in tube feeders. Mixed seeds usually consist of sunflower seeds combined with millet and other seeds. Tube feeders work best with sunflower seeds only; all other seeds get pitched out by the birds. Just because your feeders empty out quickly, doesn’t mean the birds are eating the seeds.
Finch Mixes. These mixes, marketed for finches, usually consist of nyjer, fine hulled sunflower, and lots of various millets. They are not bad mixes; it’s just that no self-respecting finch would ever eat millet which is usually the majority of the mix. They are great for ground feeders and I would be happy if they were marketed as junco or towhee mixes. Not quite as sexy, I suppose.
Vitamins Added. Seed manufacturers sometimes boast that vitamins have been added to wild bird seed mixes. While this may be required for caged birds, it is not needed for wild birds that eat your bird seeds only as a supplement to their wild diet. It is an unnecessary and expensive additive to appeal to your paternal instincts.
Local Christmas Bird Counts
As we draw near to Christmas, all birders know it’s time for annual Christmas Bird Counts sponsored by the National Audubon Society. These counts go on all over the nation (and internationally too) in the weeks surrounding Christmas. Check the links below to learn more about Christmas Bird Counts and to find contact information on how to participate. You need not be an expert bird watcher to join in and it’s a great way to learn more. You can also participate in the count by recording your feeder birds if you don’t want to be in the field.
Colorado CBC List:
Q: Is there such a thing as a squirrel-proof feeder? I have bought many in the past and they all seem to fall short of being squirrel-proof.
A: Not all squirrel-proof feeders are created equal. We have gotten rid of many from our inventory over the years because they have fallen short, as you say. However, I find the most common issue when a customer complains about their squirrel-proof feeder not working well, is spacing. Squirrel-proof feeders need a bit of space all around them to work. If you hang a caged or weight restrictive feeder from a shepard’s crook pole, for example, the feeder will be too close to the pole. The squirrel can easily climb the pole and reach over to the feeder either shaking the seeds out or feeding without tripping the mechanism. You need to place the feeder so the squirrel has to climb down onto the feeder, then it will work fine.
If you are having squirrel problems with your shepard’s crook pole, rather than buying a squirrel-proof feeder which will not perform well, you should squirrel-proof the pole with a baffle and place your pole far enough away so the squirrels cannot jump to the pole over the baffle. Problem solved.
Q: What should I feed my robins?
A: First, let me say that your robins are fine. Many people worry because they feel robins should not be here in the winter, but robins are regular winter residents here and in many places with much harsher weather than ours. Now, to answer the question; it’s fun to have robins visit in any season. In winter, I think they respond best to raisins soaking in water in a shallow dish so they are all plump. Even after the raisins have been eaten, the robins will enjoy drinking the raisin water.
Purple Finches and American Goldfinch ©Steve Frye