Backyard Bird Seed Guide – Nutritional Info and Where to Buy

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Here is your comprehensive guide to the different types of bird seed you can use at your feeders. We give you tips on which are winners, which to avoid, which birds like which seeds, and what feeders work best with each type.

When it comes to our recommended bird food in this article, we really like using Chewy. They have great pricing, discounts and second-to-none customer service. However each item will also have a link to Amazon if you prefer. 

Which birds prefer which types of seeds and bird food? Check out this handy table we made where we also add which types of feeders are best for each food type. 

Birdseed And Feeder Chart

 Black oil sunflowerStriped sunflowerSunflower heartsNyjer/ThistlePeanutsWhite MilletSafflowerMiloCorn
Cardinals
XXXXXXXX
GoldfinchesXXXX
JaysXXXXXXXX
ChickadeesXXXXX
DovesXXXXXX
FinchesXXXXXX
GrosbeaksXXXXX
JuncosXXXXXX
NuthatchesXXXXX
TitmiceXXXXX
WoodpeckersXXX
BuntingsXX
SiskinsXXXX
SparrowsXXXXX
SquirrelsXXXXX
Feeder Type1,2,3,61,2,3,61,2,3,64,51,2,3,61,2,3,5,61,2,3,61,2,3,5,63,5
Feeder types: 1 = Tube, 2 = Hopper, 3 = Tray/Platform, 4 = Thistle, 5 = Ground Scatter, 6 = Window

Sunflower

Nutritional info: 51% fat, 21% protein, 20% carbs

Birds that like this seedchickadees, titmice, cardinals, grosbeaks, nuthatches, finches, buntings, and jays. Hulled sunflower is favored by smaller species such as chickadees and finches, and is sometimes consumed by species such as juncos that cannot open sunflower seeds. Basically – most birds really like sunflower! 

What feeders you can use it in: Hopper, tube, platform, window box, most types of hanging feeders.

There are two kinds of sunflower seeds—black oil (look pure black) and striped (shell is black & white striped).

The black oil seeds have thin shells, which makes them easy for almost all feeder birds to crack open. They have a high fat and protein content important to birds, especially in the winter. Black oil sunflower is overall the number one choice of feeder birds and is the single seed that will get you the most variety. If you only want to feed one type of seed, this would be the one to try. 

The Striped sunflower seeds have a thicker shell, so only the larger feeder birds such as cardinals and titmice will be able to crack these open. If you feed striped sunflower only, it can help to keep away large flocks of sparrows, finches, grackles and blackbirds but will also not be able to eaten by smaller birds such as chickadees or goldfinches. 

Sunflower is also sold without the shell, or “hulled”. Hulled seed is more expensive but has some advantages. Since there is no shell to get through, virtually any bird can eat and enjoy them. The biggest reason people might buy hulled sunflowers is to avoid the mess of shell casings that pile up under your feeder. If you live in an apartment/condo and have people underneath you or your feeders are in a spot that isn’t easy to sweep up, buying hulled might work well for you.

Hulled shells (also sometimes called “hearts”) are also good for window feeders. Shell casings can tend to pile up in the window feeders, so if you aren’t able to dump them out often or just want less mess, look for “no mess” mixes made of hulled seeds. However, without the protective shell these seeds will spoil more quickly, so don’t leave out more than your birds can eat within a few days. If you want to learn more about sunflower seeds check out our article here. 

Sunflower Recommendations:


Nyjer/Thistle

Nutritional info: 18% protein, 35% fat, 27% fiber (average from some top brands)

Birds that like this seed: Heavily preferred by finches such as siskins, goldfinches, purple finches and house finches. Smaller feeder birds such as chickadees, junos and sparrows will also eat it. Turkeys and mourning doves too if it’s spread on the ground.

What feeders you can use it in: Best used in feeders specifically made for thistle’s small size, which is generally a tube with small feeding ports, a mesh tube, or a mesh sock.

Nyjer seed is a very small and thin black seed with a needle like shape. While it is often called “thistle” seed, it is not actually related to the North American thistle plants you might be thinking of. Nyjer comes mostly from Africa and India. The seeds often come heat treated – enough to prevent them from sprouting but not so much that the nutritional quality is lessened. They are an oily seed with a good fat and protein content. It became popular mainly for its ability to attract finches, especially goldfinches. Most experts would recommend using this seed on its own (not as part of a mix). Nyjer seeds are so small that they are best used in bird feeders designed for them specifically (typically called thistle feeders).

Tips:

  • Many birds will lose interest in thistle seed if it has dried out. Dried out seeds mean less oil, and therefore less nutrition. Try not to purchase more than you can use in 1-2 months.
  • Nyjer seed is more vulnerable than other larger seeds to retaining moisture, clumping together, and spoiling. Try to purchase feeders with good drainage. Replace the seed every three weeks if not eaten. Every time you refill, shake the feeder well and make sure to remove any clumps of old seed stuck on the bottom. If you notice mold has grown, make sure to use a 10% bleach/water solution when cleaning the feeder to prevent contamination before refilling.
  • As I said above, most thistle is heat treated to avoid sprouting. However, your mileage may vary on this. I’ve had them grow in my bird feeding area before.  If you find this becomes a problem for you, a solid-sided tube feeder with small ports and a tray underneath might work best to keep as many seeds as possible off the ground.

Nyjer Recommendations:

 

Safflower

Nutritional info: 38% fat, 16% protein, 34% carbs

Birds that like this seed: Cardinals, jays, nuthatches, titmice, house finches, mourning doves. Sometimes grosbeaks, woodpeckers, chickadees, doves, and native sparrows.

What feeders you can use it in: hopper, tube, platform, tray

Safflower has some similarities with sunflower seeds. The oils in safflower are nutritionally similar (good for fats and proteins) and they have the same sort of tear-drop shape. However to birds, the smell and taste of safflower is quite different. This is why many seasoned birders will tell you if you want to start feeding all safflower, start by slowly mixing in a little at a time with the seed you already feed to let the birds get accustomed to it. Then increase the amount of safflower until you are feeding safflower exclusively.

This difference in taste, which is towards the bitter, makes safflower unappealing to certain birds. As luck would have it, mainly the birds you probably don’t want at your feeders – house sparrows, starlings, grackles, blackbirds and squirrels. Transitioning to an all safflower feeder if you are having trouble with these pests is certainly worth a try. I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on this. It does work for some people, while others say some of the pest birds still try and eat it. So it is likely to vary from place to place.

Safflower Recommendations:


White Millet

Nutritional info: 73% carbs, 11% protein, 4% fat

Birds that like this seed: Ground-feeding birds especially doves, cow birds, sparrows, juncos, towhees, thrashers, and cardinals. Buntings also quite like white millet. Other birds may eat it or pass, but don’t prefer it.

What feeders you can use it in: Hopper, tube, platform, window box, most types of hanging feeders.

Millet is a small, round, whitish-yellow grass seed used in most birdseed mixes. It might not be a favorite of most feeder birds, but most will consume it. Nutritionally speaking, it has less fat and protein than other seeds so isn’t as good a choice for energy. Ground feeding birds will readily eat millet so it can be used in low tray feeders or scattered on the ground. However it can also attract cow birds which can come in large numbers and are generally not welcome back yard guests. If you are getting a lot of the invasive house sparrows or cow birds it might be best not to have millet available on the ground. 

There is also red millet which may be used in seed mixes also, although less commonly. Make sure to read the ingredients because red millet looks a lot like milo, which we will discuss below.


Shelled and Cracked Corn

Nutritional info: 9% protein, 5% fat, 74% carbs

Birds that like this seed: many larger birds and ground feeding birds such as grouse, pheasant, turkey, quails, cardinals, grosbeaks, crows, ravens, jays, doves, ducks, cranes

What feeders you can use it in: best for ground scatter or platform feeders

Corn isn’t a great choice for bird feeders simply because most song birds and feeder birds won’t or can’t eat it. However it is a great food to scatter on the ground or put in ground feeders. Large ground birds and game birds will readily enjoy it. According to Cornell, one problem with corn is it is the seed most likely to harbor the fungus that produces aflatoxins, which are harmful to birds even at low levels. Moisture is what will cause this problem, so the key is to keep your corn dry. It shouldn’t sit outside for more than a day in wet or humid weather and make sure it is stored in a dry place. This is another reason it is not a good choice inside a bird feeder where it could potentially retain moisture. Another thing to watch out for with feeding corn on the ground is most other backyard critters will be attracted to it as well such as rats, mice, deer, opossum, squirrels and raccoons. Best to only scatter small amounts that your birds can finish by nightfall.

Corn Recommendation:


Peanuts

Nutritional info: 16% carbs, 50% fat, 26% protein

Birds that like this nut: jays, crows, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers

What feeders you can use it in: shelled peanuts will usually fit in tube and hopper feeders. Works fine in platform and tray feeders. You can also find special ‘peanut feeders’ for feeding peanuts in the shell to jays.

Peanuts are a pretty popular item among the mid to large size feeder birds. They are high in fat and protein and therefore are a great source of energy for birds. Shelled peanuts can be found as part of many seed mixes. You can also feed peanuts still in the shell to larger birds, jays are especially fond of these. If you are buying peanuts on their own, just make sure they are “raw” with no salt or other additives.

Peanut Recommendation:


Milo (Sorghum)

Nutritional info: 72% carbs, 11% protein, 3 % fat

Birds that like this seed: mainly ground-feeding birds such as mourning doves and  cowbirds. Supposedly it is enjoyed more by western U.S. birds such as the Seller’s Jay, Curve billed thrasher and Gamble’s quail. Truthfully, most birds do NOT like milo. 

What feeders you can use it in: Hopper, tube, platform, window box, most types of hanging feeders.

Milo is a seed harvested from the sorghum plant. It is small, round and a reddish brown color. Milo is what most would call a “filler” seed. In some mixes it can account for up to half, sometimes more, of the mix by volume. So why all this milo if most birds don’t even like it? It’s cheap, really cheap. Pound for pound it’s about a third of the price of sunflower. I would recommend if you are looking to get the most EDIBLE bird seed for your money, look for mixes low in or without milo.


Canary seed and Rapeseed

Nutritional info: Approximately 20% protein, 10% carbs from what I could find

Birds that will eat this seed: most feeder birds will tolerate it but will likely skip over it if other seed is offered. Rapeseed is going to be ignored by most birds except maybe quails, doves, finches and juncos.

What feeders you can use it in: Hopper, tube, platform, window box, most types of hanging feeders.

Canary seed  is a grain from the canary grass plant. Canary seeds have higher protein levels than most other grains. They made some headlines in 2016 as a potential gluten free alternative for those with celiac disease. As its name suggests, canary seed has been sold mostly for pet birds, and is often mixed with rapeseed. Never heard of rapeseed oil before? It is actually the seed canola oil is produced from! 

These two seed types don’t offer much over more commonly sold birdseed. Canary seed is very popular with House Sparrows and cowbirds—birds that many people would prefer not to attract.  


Wheat

Wheat as i’m sure you know is a grain. With the exception of pigeons, quails and pheasants, birds don’t like wheat. It also really holds no nutritional value for them. However it is a common filler in low priced seed mixes because it is cheap. Steer clear if you can, it will likely end up wasted.


Seed Mixes

Mixes contain multiple different types of seed and are generally used to attract a variety of birds. The most common ingredients in mixes are black oil sunflower, millet, peanut and milo. If you are ever shopping around you may notice that there is a wide spectrum of price when it comes to seed mixes. Less expensive blends tend to be made up of much more “filler” seeds than the preferred seeds. Many birds for example will favor the sunflower seeds and toss other seed aside while picking through the mix to get to it.

Many mixes contain a lot of millet. Millet isn’t a bad seed but it is mainly preferred by ground feeders – so birds at the feeder may be scattering a lot of it to the ground trying to get at what they prefer. This could work for you if you have a lot of ground feeding birds, but it could also mean a lot of seed is getting wasted or attracting birds you don’t want (like cowbirds). Many cheaper mixes also include a lot of milo and wheat which birds don’t particularly like and nutrition wise aren’t the best. 

Premium mixes will have more of the preferred seeds like sunflower and peanuts. They may also contain more expensive foods like almonds, pecans, raisins, cashews, pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, dried cranberry and pistachios. These premium mixes may be more expensive, however if you look at it another way, you are actually getting more seed for your money if there is less seed that will be wasted. Richer mixes of higher quality nuts and seeds also attract more varieties of birds. 

So when it comes to mixes, read the ingredients closely! Not all bags of seed will tell you how much of each type is present. In that case opt for clear plastic bags or bags with a window so you can actually see if the majority of what is in there is filler.

Bird Seed Mix Recommendations:

  • Wagner’s Greatest Variety Mix – this claims to be 40% sunflower seeds which is pretty good for a mix, and also contains almost every bird seed we’ve talked about in this article. Buy on Chewy / Buy on Amazon
  • Wagner’s Songbird Supreme Mix – A good mix of all the basic staple seeds without fillers like milo and wheat Buy on Chewy / Buy on Amazon
  • Lyric Fruit & Nut High Energy Mix – in my experience Lyric brand is always very high quality. This blend of no-filler seeds, nuts and fruits will please a wide variety. Buy on Chewy / Buy on Amazon
  • Lyric Fine Tunes No Waste Mix – when I was trying to avoid a mess under my feeder, this was my go-to mix. All high quality ingredients, no fillers and no shells. Buy on Chewy / Buy on Amazon

Takeaways

  • Black oil sunflower is the most preferred by the largest number of species. You will get plenty of birds in your yard by offering this alone.
  • Offering Safflower-only can be a way to deter less favorable birds
  • Use thistle to attract goldfinches but keep it fresh
  • Avoid milo and wheat when possible, they are the most likely seeds to be avoided by your feeder birds

You should now have a better understanding of the different types of seeds and their uses. Whether you want to offer just one kind, have multiple feeders that EACH offer one different type, or just use a mix, you can experiment with what will work best in your yard. One last recommendation – Buddeez Bird Seed Dispensers. A simple way to store your seed and make refills easier. I much prefer these to fussing around with a bag when trying to fill up a feeder. Buy on Chewy / Buy on Amazon

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