Feed the Birds Day is February 3—created to help the wild birds in your backyard to survive the long, cold winter. Our handy wild bird food chart lists the type of seeds, nuts, and other foods are liked most by different types of birds.
Is It OK to Feed the Birds?
Although birds can find food naturally, it’s fine to offer these supplements. During times of extreme weather, extra bird food can provide a nutritional boost and provide a helping hand.
What little food that is available can get buried under deep snow. The bird feeder that you place in you backyard aides the survival of birds in harsh winters.
Your reward is the opportunity to attract some feathered friends to your backyard and garden—and enjoy watching wild birds from your window!
Wild Bird Food Preferences
For most wild birds, seeds are the best source of high energy food for wild birds. (Do not feed birds bread.)
The seed that attracts the widest variety of birds, and so the mainstay for most backyard bird feeders, is sunflower.
Other varieties of seed can help attract different types of birds to round out your backyard visitors. In general, mixtures that contain red millet, oats, and other “fillers” are not attractive to most birds and can lead to a lot of waste as the birds sort through the mix.
Click here for a larger PDF of the below Wild Bird Food Chart.
When it comes to sunflower seeds, note that there are two kinds of sunflower—black oil and striped. The black oil seeds (“oilers”) have very thin shells, easy for virtually all seed-eating birds to crack open, and the kernels within have a high fat content, extremely valuable for most winter birds. Striped sunflower seeds have a thicker shell, much harder for House Sparrows and blackbirds to crack open. So if you’re inundated with species you’d rather not subsidize at your black oil sunflower, before you do anything else, try switching to striped sunflower.
People living in apartments or who have trouble raking up seed shells under their feeders often offer shelled sunflower. Many birds love this, as of course do squirrels, and it’s expensive. Without the protection of the shell, sunflower hearts and chips quickly spoil, and can harbor dangerous bacteria, so it’s important to offer no more than can be eaten in a day or two.
Sunflower is very attractive to squirrels, a problem for people who don’t wish to subsidize them. Some kinds of squirrel baffles, and some specialized feeders, are fairly good at excluding them. Sunflower in the shell can be offered in a wide variety of feeders, including trays, tube feeders, hoppers, and acrylic window feeders. Sunflower hearts and chips shouldn’t be offered in tube feeders where moisture can collect.
Birds love a simple suet cake, especially chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and bug-eating birds. Note that a lot commercial suet cakes have too much filler (oatmeal, cornmeal, millet) and very little of the peanuts and high-quality ingredients that birds actually need when temperatures become severe. See how to make suet here. Even better is straight suet though it’s expensive. You can generally get chunks of suet at the butcher’s or supermarket.
Read more about how to create a bird-friendly habit.
Learn about choosing the right bird feeders.