In celebration of February being National Birdfeeding Month, this is the perfect time to review the pros and cons of using different seeds to attract different birds.
First of all, the most important thing to know is that what you pay for is what you get. It may be tempting to buy the 20 pound bag of wild bird seed mix for $8-10, as the old adage states, "Buyer Beware" – the majority of that seed is white and red millet. These seeds will attract English sparrows (the non-desirable type), starlings, pigeons, and mourning doves (which, I would not mind if a few mourning doves came to my feeders, but I don't want the others).
If you think you are going to get cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and other "desirable" birds you need to change seed strategies!
Different seed types attract different bird species and require different styles of feeders. Probably the best all-round bird seed is sunflower hearts. Buying just the hearts prevents the messy build-up of shells and they are very nutritious. Sunflower hearts appear to be more costly, but because you are not paying for the bulk of the hulls, there is less weight and less waste. Purchasing sunflower heart chips are less expensive and still have all of the benefits of the whole hearts. Pound for pound they will end up cheaper than purchasing whole seeds with the hulls.
Sunflower hearts, or chips, can be used in most feeder types including hoppers, tube feeders, and platform feeders. They will also attract desirable species of songbirds including, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, grosbeaks, wrens, and finches. If your budget cannot quite reach for the hearts, then black oil sunflower seeds are the next best choice.
Niger seed is often used to attract goldfinches and used only in tube feeders. The seed is so light that if used in other feeders it will blow away. Niger, or thistle, seed is the most expensive of the seed types, but the results can be quite rewarding. Some tube feeders are made just for Niger seed with the hole below the perch. Goldfinches are the only birds which can hang upside down to eat the seed. Watching these little birds hanging upside down eating is very entertaining!
To attract ground feeding birds like desirable sparrows (white-throated, gold-crowned, fox, Lincoln's, and others) use a platform feeder. Seeds like sunflower hearts and cracked corn work well for platform feeders. Be careful though, cracked corn can sometimes attract undesirables like crows, blue jays, cow birds, and blackbirds. If this happens, you can stop feeding for a few days until they leave and then begin again without the cracked corn.
Don't forget suet cakes and raw peanuts for the woodpeckers and sapsuckers. At my house, the wrens and nuthatches will even come to these.
Page 2 of 2 - If you have troubles with squirrels try feeding with safflower seed. You will have to use only safflower, as squirrels will not eat this but will eat anything else. Birds will adapt to eating safflower seeds just fine.
It is important to keep the feeders clean as some bird diseases can spread through dirty feeders (and bird baths); cleaning them before they are stored, and about once a month is a good idea.
One of the single best things you can do to attract winter birds is provide water. A water heater makes it easy, but putting out clean water each day at the same time will work, too. The birds will become accustomed to the time you put it out and will arrive waiting for you and the clean water.
Maintaining a birdfeeding station throughout the winter months will not only help provide seed to birds when other naturally supplied seeds have been depleted, but also brings color on gray days lifting spirits and making connections with us to nature. Happy bird watching!