The Right Seed Gets the Birds!

Common Redpolls on feeder; Photo Credit: Stan Tekiela
It’s winter and your feeder is stocked – with few takers. What’s going on? Arent all those birds out there freezing and need calories? If birds aren’t at your feeders in winter there could be a lot of reasons why that is happening, but one you can easily test and control is what food you are putting out for them.


All seeds are not equal! And birds need different food at different times of the year. Winter birds in cold weather have a special need to keep their body temperature up and the best and most sought-after seeds and foods have a high fat content. Take a look at these, and try a few different ones to see if one of them rises to the top of the list in popularity.


1 – Black-oil sunflower seeds – sunflower seeds, in general, are enormously popular with birds and are critical to offering good calories in a form that birds both need and want. Most birds can extract the seed from the shell, but the seed bits that fall to the ground will nourish ground-feeding birds like Mourning Doves, who just can’t manage to crack the shells themselves. Always a popular item, to make your feeder attractive to a variety of different birds, this is an excellent choice. Don’t want the mess of cleaning up shells from under the feeder? You can get the same seeds already out of their shells avoiding cleaning up the mess and making them even easier for birds to gobble down.


2 – Suet – Always a favorite – this fatty, high-calorie treat is a winner every winter! It’s easy to make yourself, and can also be made in a vegetarian recipe. Most butchers have it on hand in the more traditional form. Woodpeckers will flock to your yard – especially if you offer the suet up in a tail-supporting woodpecker feeder – which allows them to hang on and balance with their tails. But beware that suet has an unusually low shelf life in warmer weather and goes rancid very quickly. Its best use is during the cold months when it will likely run out in the feeder before going bad.


3 – Peanuts – the trick to getting the most birds to eat these tasty, fatty bits of winter fuel is to buy them shelled. Lots of birds like Chickadees, woodpeckers and Blue Jays will visit your feeder for this treat. If you offer them in their shells, you may wind up with squirrels as your primary visitors. Peanuts are always popular and can also be offered in organic no additive peanut butter form.


4 – Cracked Corn – offered in limited quantities this is a nice addition to your seed feeder. If offered away from the bird feeding area, it may well distract squirrels as they adore corn in pretty much any form.


If you are buying a seed mix, pick the ones with the right seeds – avoid fillers and seeds that really aren’t appropriate to where you live. A seed mix that is healthy for birds and most universal will include from this list – which is also a very good one to use to make your own special blend of seeds: black-oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, white proso millet, peanut chips, sunflower hearts, and dried fruit.


For more seed types and info on which seeds to use, check out this article in Birdwatchers Digest.