Mass Audubon Shop – Bird Seed
Want to see birds without ever having to leave home? You needn't look any further than outside your own window! All you need to attract birds is the right type of bird feeder and food.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to worry about creating a hardship for birds if you ever decide to take a hiatus from bird feeding. Feeders actually account for a relatively small percent of a bird's overall food supply. When a traditional food source is available—such as worms, insects, plant seeds, or berries—birds will often opt for that instead!
There are two types of sunflower seeds used to feed birds—black oil and black striped. The black oil sunflower seed has a soft shell and a large, oily meat inside that makes it an energy-rich food source. Black striped sunflower seed is larger in size with a tougher shell and is usually eaten only when black oil sunflower seed is unavailable. Both types of sunflower seed are commercially available as whole or hulled (with the shell removed).
Birds it Attracts: Songbirds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, finches, and jays universally prefer black oil sunflower seed. Hulled sunflower is favored by smaller species such as Black-capped Chickadees and finches.
Types of Feeders: Sunflower seed is best offered in hanging feeders, especially Lucite tube feeders.
White proso millet is a small, round, yellowish grass seed that is found in most commercial bird seed mixes.
Birds it Attracts: Ground-feeding birds like sparrows, Mourning Doves, Dark-eyed Juncos, Eastern Towhees, and Northern Cardinals tend to opt for millet.
Types of Feeders: Seed mixes containing millet are best offered on the ground or on low platform feeders—not in hanging feeders. Birds that come to hanging feeders are usually looking for sunflower seed and will often push other seeds to the ground.
Note: Other seeds commonly found in commercial mixes—including milo, wheat, red millet, and hemp seeds—are generally not well received by birds. These seeds exist mostly as fillers in cheaper mixes and should be avoided if possible. Read the label when buying mixed seed to avoid these less-popular fillers.
This small, black, rod-shaped seed in the sunflower family is sometimes (incorrectly) labeled as "thistle" seed. Nyjer is native to eastern Africa and has been cultivated as a food crop in Ethiopia and India. Currently imported and sold at premium prices, nyjer seed is being tested as a promising cash crop in the United States.
Birds it Attracts: Nyjer is extremely popular with finches like Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and House Finches. Wild Turkeys and Mourning Doves will also eat nyjer when it's spread on the ground.
Types of Feeders: While relatively expensive, nyjer sometimes goes untouched at feeders where black oil sunflower seed is available. Instead, try offering it in a nyjer-specific feeder, which will have smaller holes than most feeders for dispensing these tiny seeds. Be sure to periodically check uneaten seeds since they have a tendency to spoil rapidly, especially when moist.
Suet is a hard, white fat that’s typically derived from beef. It's rich in heat-producing calories, which makes it particularly valuable to backyard birds in the winter.
Birds it Attracts: A favorite food of woodpeckers, suet is also well liked by Black-capped Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and the occasional wintering warbler.
Types of Feeders: Suet is best offered raw in specially-designed suet holders that allow birds to peck away one small piece at a time. It can also be melted down slowly into liquid and mixed with ingredients such as peanut butter and cornmeal to form suet cakes. Commercially made suet cakes are a convenient option as well—just be sure to purchase cakes labeled as "heat-resistant" in the summer when high temperatures can cause raw, unrendered suet to turn rancid.
Note: Bird feeding guides commonly include recipes for making your own suet cakes. Although often called for in these recipes, whole seeds should NOT be mixed into suet cakes—most birds that eat suet will not eat whole seeds. The only exceptions to are peanut pieces and hulled sunflower pieces.
Some of the same types of fresh fruit you enjoy are also well-loved by birds!
Birds it Attracts: Orioles often have a "sweet beak" for halved apples and oranges. House Finches, some woodpeckers, and European Starlings will also occasionally eat fresh fruit. Raisins and currants can attract Northern Mockingbirds and Catbirds, as well as a wintering thrashers or Hermit Thrush (especially if the fruit is first soaked in water).
Types of Feeders: Sections can be impaled on branches or offered in specially designed fruit feeders that have spikes to hold the fruit. Some fruit feeders also have small trays for holding jelly or jam. Moistened raisins and currants are best offered on open platforms or tray feeders.