Your native birds may prefer something other than what you are setting out for them to eat. It's time to tailor what you feed to attract the types of birds you love looking at in the backyard.
In the eyes of your feathered friends, not all bird food is created equally. There are a lot of different options for bird food on the market today. There are big bags of one type of seed, big bags of mixed seeds, suet cakes, insects, and sugar water. Some of these are pretty easy to figure out, such as using sugar water to attract hummingbirds, but deciding which foods are the best for your backyard birds can be a bit harder. Not all bird foods are created equal for all birds, and knowing the best foods to put out will keep them going strong all year long.
One of the first things that you should do when trying to decide on the best food for your feathered friends is to learn about what birds are visiting your backyard. You may find that the food that you are putting out is not attracting the wildlife that you want. To your neighborhood birds, not all foods are created equal as each have their particular favorites and must-haves. One way to see how successful your buffet is doing is to look for leftovers. You may find that the bird seed mix you are purchasing is only going so far in pleasing the visitors coming in for a treat. There may be better seed mixes to purchase that will be completely consumed which will eliminate that seed waste that can cause a mess and potential health hazards.
Black oil sunflower seeds are a great choice for all seed-eating birds that visit your backyard as they have thin shells and contain a high amount of fat. Striped sunflower seeds are a bit harder for some species to crack open, such as blackbirds and House Sparrows. Buying the already shelled version can be a bit more expensive, but might be worth it to not to worry about cleaning up the empty shells on the ground in your yard. Niger is a black seed that is popular with Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, Indigo Buntings and Common Redpolls. This seed is heat-treated to help prevent it from spreading the plants while still providing nutritional value to birds. Cardinals love safflowers, but they do have a hard shell that makes it harder for some birds to enjoy. White millet works well with doves, juncos, cardinals, American sparrows, quails, and towhees. Many of these birds prefer to eat on the ground, so it can be good to use a lower feeder or scatter this seed on the ground. For those that are not squeamish, mealworms can be a good offering, either dried larvae or the actual mealworm. Bluebirds, wrens, nuthatches, titmice and chickadees enjoy these insects. Suet cakes can also be a good choice as they often include seeds and berries for birds to eat, and are relatively easy to provide.
Corn and peanuts can be popular choices for bird feeders, but some people find that they attract some species besides birds that they may prefer not to attract. Deer, raccoons, and even bears, can be attracted to these two offerings. When offering corn, be sure not to offer any that is dyed red as this is usually intended for planting rather than eating and can be harmful since it is often treated with fungicide. Popped corn is not good to offer either as it can spoil quickly.
You may find your mixed seed has some seeds that are not as popular as the other seeds. This is often red millet, flax, or golden millet. These tend to be used to act as a filler in a mix, and might just become waste on the ground that can cause problems with fungus and bacteria.
The type of feeder that you use can also make an impact on which species will feed. Some birds are very happy feeding from the ground while others might prefer a hanging feeder or even one attached to a tree. Ground feeders are great for birds like doves or sparrows that feel safer closer to the ground. Finches and other smaller birds may prefer a small tube feeder because they do not have to fight with larger birds like blue jays to gain access to the food. Platform feeders that have a roof and some drainage holes are good for juncos and other birds that like to get their seeds from a flat surface. Some ground feeders will also feed from a platform feeder. Hoppers are similar to platforms, but they have walls that help protect the seeds from wet weather. The smaller hoppers will be good for small birds while larger hoppers can be used to feed larger birds like grackles. Nectar feeders offer nectar for hummingbirds and need to be often cleaned. Suet holders are the perfect feeders for suet, and the wide variety of suet cakes on the market mean you can attract all kinds of birds.
Bird watching at home is only fun when there are birds to actually look at in your backyard. Pinpointing the perfect food and right feeder type for your native birds can go a long way towards picking up bird activity. Your little backyard friends will love the smorgasbord of food that you are offering, and before long, your backyard will be an oasis for wildlife. You will be thankful that you took a little time to find the best bird food to offer up as you notice more and more species coming to visit. Plus, you will not have to deal with the food that gets passed up.