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    What type of bird seed to buy?

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    Feeding birds is a popular national pastime. More than 52 million Americans hang bird feeders, buying an estimated 500,000 tons of seed—enough to feed 300 million chickadees! 

    You might hang feeders and delight in all the birds that stop in for a quick bite. If you’re hoping to spot specific birds like cardinals, American Goldfinches, Indigo Buntings or woodpeckers, choosing the right birdseed is essential.

    Learning which type of birdseed attracts specific birds can increase the number of different birds that come to the feeder.

    What type of bird seed attracts what birds

    Nyjer seed

    These small black seeds, also called nyger seed or thistle, have a high oil content that supplies essential calories for purple finches, goldfinches, pine siskins and other active birds. 

    Nyger seeds are imported from overseas and sold at a premium price. The thin-shelled seeds tend to spoil faster than other types of birdseed; fill feeders will smaller quantities and refill often as the seeds start to get stale and dried.

    Shop nyjer seed >


    You’ll find two types of sunflower seed in birdseed: Black oil sunflower seed and striped sunflower seed (and some bags of birdseed have a blend). 

    Black oil sunflower seeds are smaller and have thinner shells than striped sunflower seeds. Most songbirds can crack the shells but the seeds are also sold without the shells, which is labeled as “hulled” or “sunflower hearts” on birdseed bags. 

    Birds discard the shells, creating small piles beneath hanging feeders that can be a pain to clean up. Purchasing sunflower seeds without the shells will keep the area around the feeder a little neater.

    Both types of sunflower seeds will attract songbirds like cardinals, chickadees, finches, jays, nuthatches and titmice. Sunflower seeds are also a favorite of squirrels, so be prepared to install a squirrel baffle or other deterrent to keep squirrels from raiding the feeders.

    Shop sunflower bird seed >


    Looking to attract cardinals, finches, titmice and grosbeaks while keeping blackbirds, grackles and squirrels from showing up for a meal? Fill your feeders with safflower.

    The cone-shaped white seed has a thick shell and provides is an excellent source of protein, fat and fiber. 

    Shop safflower bird seed >


    Corn is often used as a filler in birdseed mix. It’s lower in oil than other seeds but is a good source of protein and fiber and will attract cardinals, ducks, grosbeaks, grouse, pheasants, quails, ravens and turkeys.

    It’s best to offer corn in small amounts (no more than birds will eat in one day) to avoid attracting deer, bears, raccoons and other wildlife.

    Use tray feeders instead of tube feeders, which can trap moisture. Feeders should be emptied and cleaned during rainy or humid weather to prevent aflatoxins that could harm birds.

    Shop corn bird food >


    You don’t even need a feeder to offer birds a feast; peanuts can be set out, in their shells, to attract crows, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, nuthatches and jays looking for a high protein, high fat treat.

    Peanuts will also attract squirrels, raccoons and other pests that you might like to keep away from your feeders so feed with care.

    Shelled peanuts can also be poured into feeders but it’s essential to change out the seeds on a regular basis, especially if the weather is rainy or humid. Damp peanuts can have aflatoxins, a type of mold that is toxic to birds.

    Shop peanut bird feed >


    Ground-feeding birds love millet. The cereal grain is chock full of protein and calcium and quails, juncos, doves, towhees and sparrows will gobble it up. You can scatter millet on the ground (but remember not to scatter more than birds will eat in a day or the seed will attract other pests) or set out in a tray feeder near the ground.

    Shop millet bird seed >


    Suet isn’t birdseed; it’s a hard fat that sends woodpeckers, chickadees, flickers, nuthatches, wrens, jays and starlings flocking to feeders. The blocks (or balls) of suet are hung in suet holders that allow birds to peck off small pieces.

    Thanks to its high fat content, suet is a great source of energy in the winter. During the summer months, it’s important to use “heat resistant” suet to ensure that the hot sun doesn’t melt the suit and cause it to go rancid.

    Shop suet bird food >

    The more you know about choosing the right birdseed, the easier it’ll be to draw birds to your yard and delight in watching them fuel up on nutritious, delicious seeds.

    More bird feeding

    Keeping bird feeders full is one part of responsible birding, but the other key factor is keeping your bird feeders clean. Clean feeders keeps your feathered friends safe from disease-free.