Feeding wild birds is one of my favorite ways to give a little something back to nature. It helps birds gain extra energy and nourishment when they may need it most, whether they live in my area all year or just stop by during migration. There are as many ways to feed birds as there are things to feed them, and I’ve tried quite a few with continued success.
Most people know that a variety of seeds and grains provide a wide profile of vitamins and other nutrients, but not everyone knows which seeds are best — and which are best to avoid. I tend to steer clear of prepackaged mixes simply because it’s so easy to make my own, but there are some high-quality blends available if that’s your preference. There are also some other fun foods that birds enjoy, which I’ll discuss below:
Why Feed Wild Birds?
Opinions vary and are backed by research that, as with many things on the Internet, conflicts and contradicts, leading to some confusion on the topic. Some schools of thought veer along the lines of a “don’t feed the bears” mentality, meaning it could pose a problem with a bird’s natural diet or migration habits if it gets accustomed to a tame food source.
The general consensus, however, is that supplemental feeding in backyard feeders often proves beneficial to traveling and overwintering birds alike. It’s worth noting, though, that backyard feeding is best done in the late fall to early spring, as food is typically plenty abundant in the late spring through summer and into early fall.
What Do Wild Birds Eat For Food?
I’ve narrowed down the list of best-choice seeds from dozens of options. Many seeds serve as filler in premixed birdseed and are ignored or tossed out by birds, which can lead to rodent problems and issues in the garden if that’s where your feeder is located. Offering a variety of options ensures you get multiple species in greater numbers. These seeds (and grains and legumes) are sure to sate even your hungriest guests, so make sure you check your feeders and refill them often.
So what seeds do you feed? Try these:
1.Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Black sunflower seeds are fantastic for most birds, and offer benefits from the protein and fat year-round. The husks provide extra fiber when they are consumed, but serving just the kernels makes for a less messy option.
According to BirdChannel article, “Backyard Bird Feeder Seed Tips,” many birds love black oil sunflower seeds:
“No matter where you live, this high-fat, high meat-to-shell ratio seed attracts more bird species of seedeaters than any other. Wild birds that prefer black-oil sunflower seed include Northern Cardinals, jays, finches, grosbeaks, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers.”
2. Nyjer (Niger) Seeds
Nyjer seeds are popular in many mixes, and they should be. Their small size makes them ideal for more petite species, and the healthy fats offer much-needed extra energy, especially in the wintertime.
Peanuts are another amazing source of healthy fats, and many birds love them. It’s important to remember that salted or roasted peanuts are unhealthy, and poorly sourced varieties can poison birds with a toxin called aflatoxin.
Millet offers concentrated protein to help build and repair the wing muscles of exhausted birds. It is also low in fat, which makes it an optimal choice for mixing with other seeds or grains.
5. Brown Or White Rice (cooked)
It’s not recommended to give birds uncooked rice of any variety, but cooked brown rice offers protein, and both varieties are high in sugar, providing fuel that is immediately available.
Suet & Suet Feeders
If I were a bird, suet cakes and fat balls would be my favorite foods. Full of fat and nuts, grains and seeds and sometimes even fruit and honey, these are the granola and energy bars of the avian world. It’s really easy to make your own suet cake, and there are some great recipes available online. Here is my absolute favorite; I add it to the list of goodies I make every holiday season!
- 1 c. shortening
- 1 c. crunchy peanut butter
- 1 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. whole-wheat flour
- 2 c. cornmeal
- 1 c. oats
- 1 – 2 handfuls of birdseed
- 1 handful of raisins, chopped (optional)
Heat shortening and peanut butter in a pan until melted. Remove from heat, and whisk in flours, avoiding lumps. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Place in your chosen molds or other containers and let harden. Cut to fit your suet feeder or place on a feeding platform. I like to use muffin tins for platform feeding, and if I’m really motivated I will spread the mix on pinecones before it hardens and hang them from trees, especially in the winter, for a festive touch!
When it comes to placing suet feeders, Audubon offers these tips:
“Place the suet in special feeders or net onion bags at least five feet from the ground to keep it out of the reach of dogs. Do not put out suet during hot weather as it can turn rancid; also, dripping fat can damage natural waterproofing on bird feathers.”
Off-Menu Options Provide Special Treats
Birds like to eat a variety of foods but are normally only offered seeds, nuts or grains at conventional feeders. Try some of these instead!
- Mealworms make great alternatives, but are among some of the most expensive options. (Unless you raise them yourself, and I just don’t have the stomach for that.)
- Raw peanuts that are still in the shell are fun to put out, as well. Birds get pretty silly when they are attempting to obtain the tasty morsels tucked away inside.
- Fresh or dried fruit is an especially healthy option, as long as you get the sugar-free, no-sulfite varieties. Try bananas, berries, grapes and melons, or you can provide raisins and dried cranberries for extra snacks.
- Avoid milk, as this can cause stomach problems at the least and death at its worst. Fermented dairy products like cheese and yogurt, though, are easy to digest and provide some valuable probiotics to the digestive systems of your visitors.
I find feeding the wild birds that visit my yard is exciting and fun, and it also gives me satisfaction in knowing I’m doing something to help my friends get where they need to go. It’s always interesting to watch new species or recognize return customers, and feeding them helps me feel good, while providing some additional nutritional resources birds need during the most extreme of temperatures. As far as hobbies go, this is one of the best; it doesn’t take much effort — or money — and it’s always worth the reward.