Monday, March 14, 2011

Attract birds to your backyard: Part 4: Bird foods

A Purple Finch and Black-headed Grosbeak join two American Goldfinches on this huge feeder at Hagg Lake, Washington County, Oregon, 7 July 2007 by Greg Gillson.


In the previous post we discussed bird feeder styles. Certain birds prefer certain styles of feeder types. Equally important is what you put in the feeders to offer to the birds in your backyard. That is the subject of this post.

Black oil sunflower seeds
Birds attracted: finches, grosbeaks, sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches
Feeder styles: platform, tube, hopper

Perhaps you noticed that the photos of birds eating at seed feeders in the previous post were all shown with one type of seed--black oil sunflower. Sunflower seeds come in two general varieties--striped and black oil. The black oil have more nutrition and fats (oils), and the hulls are softer, allowing chickadees and other small birds to break them open to get to the kernels. These seeds are a favorite of many birds species.

Black oil sunflower seed in a tube feeder will greatly reduce the number of invasive House Sparrows at your feeder. Such feeders are also less likely to be taken over by jays and squirrels.

This squirrel-proof tube feeder also keeps out Red-winged Blackbirds and jays, while birds up to the size of Golden-crowned Sparrows go right in!

"Wild bird seed mix"
Birds attracted: sparrows, doves
Feeder styles: platform, hopper

As an inexpensive "filler," these bird seed mixtures are generally over 50% millet (often both the red and white varieties). Millet, especially red millet, is not desired by most native backyard birds. Many sparrows and other birds will kick or throw it out of the bird feeders, searching for other seeds, such as sunflowers. However, the invasive House Sparrows love millet and European Starlings eat it too. Most people would rather feed native birds than encourage the loud, messy, and aggressive House Sparrows and Starlings. Once you realize that the great deal on wild bird seed mix is only 50% edible to the birds you want to attract, you will be more willing to spend slightly more money on other types of food.

Niger seed (also trademarked as Nyjer)
Birds attracted: goldfinches, siskins
Feeder styles: thistle feeder, thistle sock

There is no better way to attract goldfinches to your backyard than a thistle feeder, unless you plant your yard with thistles--something sure to make your neighbors prickly.

Don't feed too much at once, as it can mildew in the rain. Goldfinches may take some time to find your thistle feeders, so first set up black oil sunflower tube feeders to attract other finches and the goldfinches will soon find the thistle feeder.

This smaller thistle feeder looks perfect!

Birds attracted: quail, doves, jays, blackbirds
Feeder style: platform or spread on the ground

Corn is a favorite of squirrels--especially whole corn on the cob. Cracked corn is eaten by more birds. Some people don't mind attracting squirrels--others try to discourage them from "stealing" all the bird food.

Birds attracted: jays, nuthatches
Feeder style: platform

Jays and squirrels will spend all day burying and digging up each other's cached peanuts. Other birds will eat them, occasionally.

Birds attracted: woodpeckers, bushtit
Feeder style: Suet cage or nailed on tree

You may be surprised at the number of birds attracted to suet in winter, including insect-eating wrens and warblers. However, don't think of carnivorous birds. Think of suet as a big, fat, juicy grub, and you'll see the appeal.

There are many different "flavors," some including seeds. Experiment with what works best for your birds.

Many types of suet melts or goes rancid quickly once the temperature goes above 60 degrees F, so this is primarily a winter food. However, you may find other certain types that keep better in warm weather.

This copper-roofed suet cage should keep the starlings off!

Birds attracted: thrushes, orioles
Feeder style: Platform or nailed down

Cut apples or orange slices may attract certain birds, such as Varied Thrushes in winter and orioles in summer. They may attract yellowjackets, in summer, though.

Birds attracted: hummingbirds, orioles
Feeder style: Hummingbird feeder, Oriole feeder

The nectar is 20% sugar solution, 1 part table sugar to 4 parts water. While this may be bad for us, it is perfect for hummingbirds. Never use honey. Oriole feeders are just hummingbird feeders with bigger feeder holes for the oriole's larger bill.

Bread and human food scraps
Attracted: European Starlings, rats

Don't do it!

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Check out the Cornell Lab or Ornithology for more bird feeding tips.

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Part 1