Best Bird Seed

The Best Bird Seed to Attract Wild Birds to Your Backyard

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You walk into your local farm and garden store to pick up a bag of bird food, and the options are endless. From seed mixes of sunflower, safflower, and millet to mealworms, the list goes on and on. It can be difficult to know what type of feed is best for the birds in your yard.

Product Name
Best Nutritional Seeds
Kaytee Wild Bird Black Oil Sunflower Food
Best Budget
Wagner's 62051 Nyjer Seed Wild Bird Food
Best Waste Free
Wagner's 57075 Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food
Image
Kaytee Wild Bird Black Oil Sunflower Food, 5 Pounds
Wagner's 62051 Nyjer Seed Wild Bird Food, 5-Pound Bag
Wagner's 57075 Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food, 5 Pound (Pack of 1)
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Outdoor
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Seeds
Seeds
Weight
5 Pounds
5 Pounds
5 Pound
Size
2.25 x 10 x 17.5 inches
10.5 x 3.8 x 14.5 inches
12.1 x 7.4 x 4.2 inches
Age Range
All Life Stages
Adult
All Life Stages
Country of Origin
USA
India
USA
Best Nutritional Seeds
Product Name
Kaytee Wild Bird Black Oil Sunflower Food
Image
Kaytee Wild Bird Black Oil Sunflower Food, 5 Pounds
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Weight
5 Pounds
Size
2.25 x 10 x 17.5 inches
Age Range
All Life Stages
Country of Origin
USA
Best Budget
Product Name
Wagner's 62051 Nyjer Seed Wild Bird Food
Image
Wagner's 62051 Nyjer Seed Wild Bird Food, 5-Pound Bag
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Weight
5 Pounds
Size
10.5 x 3.8 x 14.5 inches
Age Range
Adult
Country of Origin
India
Best Waste Free
Product Name
Wagner's 57075 Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food
Image
Wagner's 57075 Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food, 5 Pound (Pack of 1)
Customer Rating
Specific Uses for Product
Outdoor
Item Form
Seeds
Weight
5 Pound
Size
12.1 x 7.4 x 4.2 inches
Age Range
All Life Stages
Country of Origin
USA

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

For people that are used to buying bird mix and want to start making their own, it’s hard to even find a starting point. Wherever you are in your bird-feeding journey, here’s a quick guide.

Should You Buy a Mix or Make Your Own?

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to buy bird seed or mix your own. Mixing your own seed can be time-consuming, but it could save you money in some cases and develop the perfect mix of seeds for the birds in your yard without wasting money on extra seed that the species of birds in your yard don’t like.

Many packaged bird seed bags contain a mix of ingredients to attract a variety of birds, but they often also contain filler ingredients that don’t really interest most birds.

Whether you’re buying seed or making it your own, here’s what common backyard birds will be drawn to.

Do Price and Quality Matter?

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Cheap bird seed can be plenty effective at providing birds with quality nutrition all year, but be sure to check on the ingredients before purchasing.

Many inexpensive bird seed mixtures (and some expensive ones) will include filler ingredients that birds don’t care for. While they look good and won’t harm birds, they probably won’t cause birds to flock to your feeders, and they likely won’t end up getting eaten.

For example, many bird seeds contain foods like milo or oats which aren’t of much interest to the vast majority of birds in American bird watchers’ backyards. Many birds will likely pick through the seed for more desirable ingredients, meaning that while you are technically getting a lot of pounds’ worth of seed, you’ll be stuck filling up your feeders more often to restock the birds’ favorites.

A bird seed mix that skips the filler ingredients in favor of high-quality seeds will provide more bang for your buck. Here’s a quick breakdown of which seeds birds like and which ones they don’t.

Sunflower Seeds

If you’re just looking to feed birds and don’t care which ones, sunflower seeds are a pretty safe bet. From larger birds like cardinals, grosbeaks, and blue jays down to smaller finches, nuthatches, and chickadees, tons of birds eat sunflower seeds. Some woodpeckers are even a possibility.

There are two kinds of sunflower seeds that you can put out for birds: black oil sunflower and striped sunflower. Black oil seeds are more common seeds that have thin shells that most birds can crack open, while striped seeds have thicker shells that are difficult for certain birds, including blackbirds and sparrows, to crack open, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The two are pretty similar in price.

Sale
Kaytee Wild Bird Black Oil Sunflower Food, 5 Pounds
  • Kaytee Black Oil Sunflower is the best single grain for attracting the widest variety of wild birds
  • High Oil Content Provides Birds Their Necessary Year Round Energy
  • Appealing to smaller song birds such as Cardinals and Chickadees

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Either sunflower seed is fine, but if you’re looking to avoid feeding birds such as sparrows and blackbirds, try striped sunflower seeds. It might be a little bit more expensive, but if you can avoid large quantities of seed going to birds you don’t want to see, it may be worth the cost.

Whatever you do, don’t place out in-shell sunflower seeds meant for humans. The kind of sunflower seeds you chew at a baseball game are high in unnatural salt concentrations that can be unhealthy for birds.

Sale
Kaytee Striped Sunflower Wild Bird Food 5 Pounds
  • The rich oil content provides a high-energy food source, making it a favorite of many backyard birds
  • Appeals to larger birds like blue jays, woodpeckers, grosbeaks and cardinals
  • Cleaned to minimize debris from harvest, providing premium, top quality seeds with less waste

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Also, know that sunflower seeds can be messy. Birds crack the shells to get to the inner morsels, so you may end up with shells all over the ground. This can attract squirrels and other pests and leave you cleaning up after your feathered guests.

Shelled sunflower seeds are an option to solve the mess problem, but they are usually more expensive, and they can quickly go bad in the hot sun if not consumed quickly, so be cognizant of that before making the switch.

Sale
Morning Song Sunflower Hearts & Chips Wild Bird Food, No Mess Sunflower Seeds for Birds, 5.5-Pound Bag
  • Contains 100% shell-free sunflower pieces
  • No waste wild bird seed, perfect for patio feeders
  • Popular bird feed choice to attract a variety of feathered friends

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Thistle

Some sunflower seed mixes will be mixed with thistle (Nyjer), a favorite of finches, including goldfinches. You can buy finch-specific food, which will be high in thistle, at your local bird seed supplier. A finch-specific feeder that allows the birds to pick out thistle will be a hot commodity and can keep finches coming back to your house throughout the year.

Wagner's 62051 Nyjer Seed Wild Bird Food, 5-Pound Bag
  • The favorite seed of Finches including the desirable Goldfinch
  • Contains 150,000 seeds per pound creating many visits to the feeder
  • An extra clean seed that provides high energy content for backyard songbirds

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Even in northern climates, some finches may stay for the entire year. A feeder full of finches at a time when other birds have departed for southern climates can make your dull winter season a little bit more enjoyable.

Safflower

Like sunflower seeds, safflower seeds are a popular bird seed ingredient that has a hard shell. Some people say that less desirable wildlife such as European starlings and squirrels often don’t care for safflower, but in some locations they have started to eat it, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Wagner's 57075 Safflower Seed Wild Bird Food, 5 Pound (Pack of 1)
  • Made in the USA
  • A favorite seed of Cardinals and other songbirds
  • Highest quality grains used

Last update on 2024-04-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If your backyard is full of starlings and squirrels that you’re not interested in feeding, safflower seeds may be worth a try, but there’s no guarantee that it will work as intended. The good news is that even if the starlings and squirrels still like it, so do birds like grosbeaks, sparrows, and cardinals.

Millet

Birds that feed on the ground are typically the biggest fans of millet. If you have larger birds like grouse or quail near you, you may catch a glimpse of them under your feeder. Doves also like millet.

Most millet that birds prefer is white proso millet, but you may find golden or red millet as filler seeds in your pre-packaged mixes. Feel free to skip these ingredients if you’re mixing your own seed, as they aren’t likely to be popular for your target audience.

You can find white proso millet for sale individually online, but it’s also included in ready-made mixes already. Some birds won’t really care for it, but if you’re looking to feed a wide array of birds, the white proso millet that the average bird passes up may be a favorite for another.

Cracked Corn

Some birds do like cracked and shelled corn, including sparrows, jays, and ground-dwelling birds. If you plan to put out corn in your backyard, that comes with a few warnings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

  1. Corn should be offered only in moderation on tray feeders. Tube feeders can lead to excess moisture and spoiled food. Moisture is no good, so don’t put out corn from plastic bags or put out any corn that gets moist quickly.
  2. Buttered or microwave popcorn should never be offered to birds, as it spoils quickly. Additionally, popcorn doesn’t offer much nutritional value to birds.
  3. Never put out red-dyed corn for birds, as it can resemble corn intended for planting that can be highly toxic to birds.
  4. Corn is likely to attract unwanted guests, including raccoons, bears, geese, starlings, and cowbirds.

Flax, Wheat, Oats, Rapeseed

These ingredients are often used as filler ingredients in packaged bird seed. Save your money and don’t include them if you’re making your own mix, as there are far better seeds out there that birds will prefer.

Best Bird Seed Mixes

The best bird seed mix will depend on what kind of birds you’re looking to feed. While some will describe themselves as the best of the best for finches, cardinals, or other birds, it’s best to check the ingredients to make sure each mix includes the best combination of seeds with limited or no filler ingredients.

Many finch mixes may include millet, canola seed, or other fillers. While they won’t always end up wasted, it may be preferable to just mix sunflower hearts or chips and thistle. You can do this yourself or buy a mix, like this one:

Happy Wings Finch Blend Bird Food, Mix of Sunflower Hearts/Kernels and Nyjer Seed, 5 Pounds | No Grow Seed | Bird Seed for Wild Birds
  • 🌱 Our Thistle Seed and Sunflower Kernels are the best grain to attract many varieties of colorful finches and other outdoor pet...
  • 🌱 High in oil, protein and energy content for nutrition to the birds and maintain their healthy lifestyle.
  • 🌱 These are no growth seeds as they do not germinate, keeping your backyard clean without pesky pests or ingrown plants

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

For most birdwatchers, you really can’t go wrong with sunflower and safflower. If you want to attract specialized feeders like orioles or bluebirds, which we’ll touch on in a second, these foods won’t do the trick, but for many of the backyard birds that people are used to seeing at their feeders, they will usually get the job done.

Sale
Lyric Cardinal Wild Bird Seed - Sunflower & Safflower Premium Bird Food Mix for Cardinals, Grosbeaks & Blue Jays - 3.75 lb bag
  • Premium mix of sunflower and safflower seeds for cardinals and other wild birds
  • This bird feed for outside feeders contains over 70% sunflower seeds
  • Attracts wild birds like bushtits, cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, jays, mockingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Varied Thrush, and...

Last update on 2024-04-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What Kind of Non-Bird Seed Foods Do Birds Eat?

You’re not just limited to seed-based bird foods. Here’s a quick rundown of some non-seed foods that certain birds will love.

Suet

Suet, or beef fat, is often used to lure in woodpeckers. Though woodpeckers are the birds you’ll likely see most often at your suet feeder, chickadees, nuthatches, grosbeaks and other birds may visit as well. It’s a high-energy food to help birds through the winter.

Some people suggest saving suet for the winter and skipping it in the summer months, as it can go bad quickly, leading to messy feeders and diseases for birds.

Suet cakes are often filled with seeds and can either be purchased fairly inexpensively at a store or made yourself, though that takes a bit more energy and time.

If you have access to beef fat, you can melt it down and mix it with a high concentration of seeds, then wait for it to solidify into a cake form. Here’s a quick guide to suet for birds.

Peanuts

Blue jays love peanuts. They’re not the only ones, but a feeder full of peanuts will keep blue jays coming back all day.

Some birdwatchers will put out a feeder specifically for peanuts. These feeders come in the shape of a nylon sack with holes just large enough for smart jays to pull out the peanuts. It’s a spectacle to watch as they swoop down to the feeder, grab a peanut, and swoop back up into the trees, only to return minutes later.

Put out unsalted peanuts. Like human sunflower seeds, peanuts intended for humans include levels of salt that aren’t natural for birds.

Mealworms

You can either buy dried or live mealworms, the larva of mealworm beetles. Bluebirds are a favorite of many birdwatchers and are known to enjoy mealworms. Once bug-eating birds find out that you have mealworms on offer, expect them to start visiting regularly.

Dried mealworms may not drum up the same enthusiasm from your backyard bluebirds, but they are fairly inexpensive and less messy than live bugs.

Oranges and Other Fruit

As you may know, orioles love oranges, and woodpeckers may also love them. If you want to feed oranges to orioles, cut them in half to expose the juicy inner sections and put the open side face up. This can be done on a feeder meant for oranges, or just by placing oranges open side up on your regular bird feeder or on something like a fence post.

Orioles are also known to eat grape jelly. Put jelly in a clear dish that birds can easily access. Putting jelly near your other feeders is likely to draw birds’ attention, but spacing out feeders by at least a few feet is key for reducing messes and the spread of disease. To provide the healthiest options for your backyard birds, buy jelly that’s free of preservatives and artificial flavoring.

Some birds, including robins, orioles, and bluebirds, may like small dried fruits like raisins. You can also try fruits like apples and berries, which will draw in some birds, but feeding large amounts of fruit to a backyard full of birds with high metabolisms can get expensive in a hurry.

If you put oranges, jelly, or other fruit out for birds, make sure to wash your feeders more regularly, as oranges can be sticky, leading to disease and sticky wings for your feathered friends.

Nectar for Hummingbirds

Depending on your location, you may have hummingbirds present in your location for part (or all) of the year. Hummingbirds get most of their nutrition from nectar-rich plants, but many bird enthusiasts supplement the food from their flower gardens with hummingbird feeders.

You can either buy a hummingbird nectar mix or make your own. To make your own, mix one part sugar with four parts water. If you are buying your own, some people suggest buying undyed hummingbird food. There isn’t indisputable scientific evidence that dye harms hummingbirds, but some people believe it can lead to health issues.

Regardless of what hummingbird food you choose, be sure to clean your feeders often. Like oranges, sugar water is sticky and can be messy. Additionally, sugar water can spoil quickly in the summer heat, so if your nectar isn’t eaten by hummingbirds within a few days, switch it out for a fresh batch.

What About Processed Leftover Human Foods?

Birds generally shouldn’t eat most processed human foods. Foods like bread and bakery items might pique the birds’ interest, but they’re not good for them.

A diet high in carbohydrates and low in nutritional value that bread provides can lead to deformities like angel wing and starvation, even on a full stomach.

Some human foods like chocolate and honey should never be fed to birds, as they can be toxic and quickly lead to illness or death. Before feeding any human food to birds, research whether or not it’s healthy for birds.

How Can You Save Money Feeding Birds?

Feeding birds can be expensive. Buying in bulk, while it leads to a greater upfront cost, can save you money in the long run, but that may not be realistic for everyone.

You can save on bird food by only putting out seed intermittently. While it doesn’t provide around-the-clock food for backyard wildlife, birds aren’t likely to quickly forget about your feeders if you provide consistent food when you’re able to watch them.

Put out seed first thing in the morning or right before sunset to enjoy the birds with your morning cup of coffee or before bed. The birds will likely start to get into a routine and visit your feeders when they know food is likely to be present.

You can also buy one specific seed in order to attract your favorite birds and skip other types of food. For example, if you only want to feed a pair of bluebirds that you know lives in your backyard, you can buy mealworms and stick to them. Many birds won’t care for them, but you can still enjoy those bluebirds at your feeder while saving a few bucks.

The same logic can be applied to any specific bird. Find out what that bird likes and target those species with your seed offerings.

Is There Anything Else You Need To Know?

This is not an all-inclusive list of everything that birds can and will eat. If you have a question about any specific food, do some research into whether it will attract any birds – and whether it’s healthy for them – before putting it out.

Feeding backyard birds can be a trial-and-error process. If you’re not sure which bird seed will work for you, or you’ve been putting out a certain type of bird seed that hasn’t been working, it might be time to switch things up. You could have species of birds in your area that you never knew about. Trying something new can be a fun way to see new birds and increase the number of birds at your feeders.

Happy birding!

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