WORDS ON BIRDS
Birds Prefer Fresh, Quality Bird Seed
By Steve Grinley
we move into the fall and winter bird feeding season, folks are
placing their bulk seed orders or they are at least planning their
menu on what to serve the birds this year. Therefore, I should again
review the various bird seeds and the birds that eat them:
I start with the story of a young couple that came into the store
with a twenty pound bag of bird seed that they were given as a house
warming gift. It was a brand that wasnít familiar to me. They said
that they had put it in their feeders and the birds just donít eat
it. The birds come, pick at it, and most ends up on the ground. But
it was not even being eaten on the ground, so they have had to sweep
it up from under the feeders. They asked for my advice.
When I opened the bag, I could see that the mixture was made up
mostly of red millet and milo, a little cracked corn and a few (very
few) sunflower seeds. I explained to the couple that there was very
little sunflower in the mix and sunflower is what most birds prefer.
Red millet and milo tend to be ignored by birds and the corn might
be eaten by a few blackbirds or other ground feeders. It was a sorry
indicator, though, if this seed wasnít even being eaten on the
ground. The bag had a slogan on it: "Birds Like It Better." It just
didnít say better than what!
Sunflower is the seed that is favored by most backyard birds.
Cardinals, chickadees, tufted titmice, nuthatches, finches, blue
jays, grosbeaks and even woodpeckers like sunflower. Black-oiled
sunflower is the small, black seed with a thin shell that most birds
can easily open and therefore attracts a large variety of birds. It
has a higher fat content than the larger striped sunflower, which
makes it a popular choice for winter bird feeding. Striped sunflower
has a thicker shell and is easily eaten by birds with heavy bills
such as cardinals, grosbeaks and blue jays. But even the small
chickadees and titmice open the seed by holding it between their
feet to chisel it open. Finches, however, have a harder time opening
the striped sunflower.
One way to
avoid the mess of shells under feeders is to offer sunflower hearts,
which is just the meat of the seed. T hey are more expensive, but
there is no waste. This makes sunflower hearts more convenient when
feeding on patios or over sensitive grass areas. Birds certainly
prefer hulled sunflower as it requires less effort on their part.
There is also a less expensive sunflower blend, commercial known as
"Meaties", which consists of about 80% sunflower hearts and 20%
black-oiled sunflower. It provides less mess at a more economical
Safflower is a specialty seed
that, when served alone or mixed with sunflower, cardinals savor.
Squirrels, pigeons and grackles reportedly don't like safflower as
well. In the absence of sunflower, other birds such as house
finches, chickadees, titmice and mourning doves also eat safflower.
Golden safflower or Nutrasaff is a shell-less safflower that is
relatively new on the market but, reportly, more birds enjoy it
while it still discourages squirrels and grackles.
Thistle or Nyger seed is a favorite of goldfinches, house finches
and, in winter, pine siskins and redpolls. Nyger is a small black
seed that, unless mixed with other seed, is very light and will blow
right out of a regular sunflower or mixed seed feeder. It needs its
own feeder with tiny holes through which the finches pull the seed.
There is also a wild finch mix available that contains Nyger seed as
well as fine sunflower chips which finches rally love. This mix will
fit through the small holes of a thistle feeder. Squirrels donít
usually bother with Nyger seed but they may be more attracted to a
wild finch mix as that also contains the sunflower.
Shelled peanuts, popular in the United Kingdom for years, are
becoming more popular here in the states. Placed in a separate mesh
feeder, shelled peanuts attract woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees and
White millet and cracked
corn attract ground feeding birds such as sparrows, juncos, mourning
doves and blackbirds such as crows, redwings, grackles, and
cowbirds. A coarse cracked corn may also attract pheasants and wild
Many people use a seed mix
to attract a variety of birds to a feeder. The better seed blends
are high in sunflower and may contain sunflower hearts, peanut
hearts, safflower and lower amounts of millet and/or cracked corn.
Beware of the low cost grocery or discount store blends such as that
couple experienced. First, you donít know how long that seed has
been sitting in a warehouse. Also, generic brands add a lot of
filler seed to increase weight. Therefore you pay for twice: once at
the counter and again when you have to sweep it up from under your
feeders after the birds have discarded it. Most birds don't eat
milo, red millet and other filler seeds added to these mixes to
increase the weight, so do read the ingredients label.
Avoid any mixes with red seeds showing through their clear
packaging. These are to attract you, the buyer - not the birds. A
better, fresher quality seed mixture saves you in the long run, and
the birds will benefit more as well.
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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