Providing bird seed for wild birds is a fun and incredibly popular backyard activity. Knowing what seed to provide and which birds that seed will attract, is far more than just a wild guess. A lot of scientific research has been undertaken by the Wild Bird Feeding Industry to answer these questions and provide quality products that homeowners can rely upon while engaging in the popular hobby of feeding the wild birds.
How popular? According to the research of Millikin University researchers in Decatur, Illinois, their paper indicated that in 2011 over 52 million Americans over the age of 16, fed wild birds or wildlife around their homes. That translated to over $5 billion worth of bird food, feeders, bird houses, and bird baths sold to consumers. Though the research didn’t say, a small portion of this amount probably went into 'squirrel-proofing' feeders, a side issue of feeding backyard birds.
With that much competition in the market, there are various types of bird seed and feeders available. Knowing a little about each is a great way for homeowners to attract birds into their yard and enjoy visits by their feathered friends.
There are many types of bird seed available, but the 10 most common types are: stripe sunflower, sunflower chips, Nyjer®, cracked corn, millet, red milo, black oil sunflower, Canary seed, safflower, and peanuts. Certain birds are attracted to certain kinds of seeds such as American goldfinches having a preference for Nyjer® or scrub jays being attracted to peanuts. Birds will certainly overlap and feed on what’s available, but they do have preferences.
WBFI provides an interesting downloadable chart that details which type of seed 15 different species of backyard birds prefer on a scale of 1-3, as well as the type of feeder that attracts these birds. Morning doves show a higher preference for a flat platform feeder over a tube feeder. Jays prefer peanuts but theses are a lower food preference for doves. Utilizing this chart, backyard bird feeders can tailor their food and presentation to have the highest success.
Though seed may be sold separately, many times it is sold as mixes to attract a wider variety of birds. If purple finches prefer black oil sunflower seed or shelled sunflower chips but will also eat white proso millet and chipping sparrows prefer the millet over the sunflowers, then one mix expands the range of birds that will be attracted to the food.
These mixes may include suet or nut butters which are high caloric treats that that attract birds such as woodpeckers and nuthatches. Other cakes have gelatin binders which are safe to eat and last longer in warmer weather than suet.
To complement this menu of bird seed you can try a variety of feeder types and styles designed to attract different types of birds. There are tube feeders with tiny to large ports, platform feeders that are open or covered to provide some protection from the elements and predators, and hopper feeders which are filled and allow for seed to dispense out the bottom.
One nice thing about bird feeders is that there's very little waste. Even if birds visit these feeders and don’t like the seed or search through a mix to find their preferred seed, when the seed is kicked out often onto the ground where other birds take advantage of this source.
Tube feeders hang from tree limbs or other structures and are filled from the top. Perches are located at each port for birds to access the seed. Made of plastic or metal, these feeders are pretty durable and withstand swaying winds, marauding squirrels, and the long tongues of deer. Specific Nyjer® feeders are available for the small, narrow seeds which attract goldfinches and siskins. Some Nyjer ® feeders are nylon sacks with narrow openings that the finches can land on and pull the seeds out.
Platform feeders may be small or large, open or enclosed. Though they attract birds that prefer to hop about after seed, versus those that prefer to perch, they often need refilling because a limited amount of seed can be placed on the platform. An open platform may attract birds like quail or doves, species that might have a harder time fitting under a roofed over platform. Artisan feeders may resemble historic park lodges or other creative structures, so sometimes a good place to look for a feeder is your local artisans craft market.
Hopper feeders may be wooden or plastic and have glass or plastic windows which allow people to view the seed level inside. These feeders often have a roof that provides some protection from the elements and as a four-sided structure, allows for multiple birds to perch and feed at the same time. Depending upon the amount of feathered traffic, these feeders might not require daily refilling.
Another important consideration of backyard bird feeding is placement. As sparrows and finches visit these feeders, so too will birds of prey such as sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks. These predators take smaller birds and so having some nearby cover for your songbirds to escape to is key. This may not eliminate or reduce the periodic fly-bys of these hawks, but it will give your feeder visitors a chance to scatter. You’ll also want to place the feeder in an area that is visible from inside, to maximize enjoyment of watching the parade of songbirds that grace your backyard.