For the last several weeks I’ve been writing about backyard bird feeding and how enjoyable it can be. We’ve been in blizzard conditions, so our feathered friends need our help now more than ever.
This is a good time to share the pros and cons of using different seeds to attract different birds. The most important thing to know is that you get what you pay for. It may be tempting to buy the 20-pound bag of wild bird seed mix for $8, but as the old adage states, "Buyer beware.” The majority of that seed is white and red millet. These seeds will attract “the non-desirables” such as English sparrows, starlings, pigeons and mourning doves.
Different seed types attract different bird species and require different styles of feeders. Probably the best all-round birdseed is sunflower hearts, or chips. Buying just the hearts prevents the messy build-up of shells, and they are very nutritious. Sunflower hearts appear to be more costly, but because you are not paying for the bulk of the hulls, there is less weight and less waste.
Sunflower heart chips are less expensive and still have all of the benefits of the whole hearts. Sunflower hearts, or chips, can be used in most feeder types including hoppers, tube feeders and platform feeders. They will also attract desirable species of songbirds including cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, grosbeaks, wrens, finches and even woodpeckers. If your budget cannot quite reach for the hearts, then black oil sunflower seeds are the next best choice.
Niger seed (or thistle) is often used to attract goldfinches and used only in tube feeders, or special niger feeders (they may have a small screen; this is my favorite). The seed is so light that if used in other feeders it will blow away. Niger seed is the most expensive of the seed types, but the results can be quite rewarding. Some tube feeders are made just for Niger seed with the hole below the perch.
To attract ground feeding birds like desirable sparrows (white-throated, gold-crowned, fox, Lincolns and others) use a platform feeder. Seeds like sunflower hearts and cracked corn work well for platform feeders. Be careful though. Cracked corn can sometimes attract crows, blue jays, cowbirds and blackbirds. If this happens, you can stop feeding for a few days until they leave and then begin again without the cracked corn.
Don’t forget suet cakes and raw peanuts forwoodpeckers, sapsuckers, nuthatches, and others.
If you have troubles with squirrels, try feeding with safflower seed. You will have to use only safflower, as squirrels will not eat this but will eat anything else. Birds will adapt to eating safflower seeds just fine.
One of the single best things you can do to attract winter birds is provide water. A water heater makes it easy, but putting out clean water each day at the same time will work, too.
Maintaining a birdfeeding station throughout the winter months will not only help provide seed to birds when other naturally supplied seeds have been depleted, but also brings color on gray days lifting spirits and making connections with us to nature. Happy bird watching!
Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association. You can reach Lynn at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net, or follow her on Instagram at TheGreenSpaceKC.