Author: Emily Imhoff, Collections Manager of Zoology
This is National Bird-Feeding Month, and the month of the Great Backyard Bird Count!
Feeding wild birds is fun and relaxing for the whole family, and can help bring you closer to nature – or, rather, bring nature closer to you! Here’s how you can get started and how you can attract that one special bird species you’ve been waiting to see.
Want to get started without anything too complicated or expensive? Get a window feeder (they stick to your window with suction cups) or a small hanging feeder and a bag of black oil sunflower seeds, and you will be good to go! Remember it may take a while for birds to actually find your feeder, so be patient. If you don’t want a mess, get seeds that have had the shells removed.
Here are some common bird seed varieties and the birds that love them most
Sunflower seeds – in or out of the shell, these are a BIG favorite of lots of birds! Cardinals, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, nuthatches, etc. Sunflower seeds that have the shells removed will keep your yard or patio tidy, and may attract more types of birds.
Safflower seeds – similar to sunflower seeds, cardinals in particular are said to enjoy these, but they are not as popular as sunflower seeds.
Nyjer or “thistle” seeds – these tiny black seeds are typically used in special “finch feeders” that have tiny holes. The name makes sense, because finches especially like these seeds! If you would like to see a big flock of American goldfinches, put up a few finch feeders full of nyjer seeds. Siskins and redpolls also enjoy nyjer seed.
White millet – these small, round, whitish seeds are a favorite of doves, towhees, juncos and sparrows. Note that these birds also prefer to eat on the ground, so putting millet in a feeder may not be a good idea. Try scattering a small amount on a patio or below your birdfeeder.
Peanuts – in the shell, titmice and blue jays enjoy these treats. Watching a small titmouse carry off a large peanut and then hack it open is quite amusing! Out of the shell, many additional birds will eat them, including wrens. Make sure to get peanuts that do not have salt on them.
Dried mealworms – these are inch-long beetle larvae that have been freeze-dried. Birds that prefer to eat insects, such as wrens, love these treats. You can also feed them live mealworms; many birds enjoy these and will soon eat you out of house and home if you let them!
Suet cakes – this is a solid block of animal or vegetable fats that often has seeds or other treats embedded in it. It’s usually kept in special cage-like suet feeders. Most bird species will go for a suet cake, but it is especially good for woodpeckers.
Seed mixes – there are many types of seed mixes available, of different qualities. If you visit a bird-feeding store, the employees can help you find the mix that is best for you. Avoid mixes that have large round reddish seeds – this is milo and most birds in our area will not eat it!
When should you put out bird seed?
The best time of day for bird feeding is the morning, when birds are waking up hungry after a long night of frigid temperatures. You can feed birds year-round, but it is most commonly done in the winter.
As for unwanted animals, you may find that squirrels, raccoons and starlings (an invasive bird species from Europe) start eating more of your bird seed than the songbirds you want to feed. There are various ways to thwart them. Try purchasing an anti-squirrel feeder, installing cone-like pole baffles that keep land animals from climbing up the pole or using food like nyjer seeds that squirrels don’t like. Bird-feeding shops will also have plenty of advice.