Feeding wild birds is a wonderful and relaxing hobby. However, like all things, the cost of bird seed is going up and it’s become a more expensive hobby than it used to be. In this article we talk about why people feed birds, buying online vs locally, and how to save money buying bird seed in general.
There are many reasons why we feel compelled to feed the birds that visit our yards, but we all have one simple reason in common. That reason is that we love watching them!
There are so many different varieties. Birds of different species, colors and sizes. Birds that visit at different times of the year and birds that stick around all year long. We just can’t get enough of them because they are so peaceful to watch.
I love waking up early, making a big cup of coffee, and sitting on my back deck and just watching them at my feeders. It’s really very tranquil.
This hobby, like others, has a cost. A monetary cost. The size of that cost depends on several different factors such as how many feeders you have, how long you have been offering food to the birds, what kind of food you buy, and lastly where and how you buy it.
In this article we’re going to focus mainly on the last one and see if we can’t save you some cash and some of your precious time in the process. So let’s get to it!
Why do people feed wild birds?
Over 50 million people in the US alone feed wild birds in their backyards. Researchers at Milliken University did a survey of why people feed wild birds, they got almost 1300 responses.
They found that the majority of respondents where women between the ages of 45 and 64. More than 80% of the total participants said that they do so to bring nature and beauty to their yards and that they love the sounds of birds.
According to nature.org, 40% of households in the US feed wild birds and as many as 75% in the UK. Whatever people’s reasons are so many people do it that buying bird seed has become a 4 billion dollar industry. I found several other studies with varying results due to different sample sizes but one thing is evident, feeding birds is big business.
There may also be a couple of less common reasons, (such as helping control the insect population), but that’s just what they are, uncommon.
When you get down to it, people feed birds because they love watching them and what they bring to their yards. We love hearing them sing and watching them take the food we offer.
Feeding birds is therapeutic & relaxing
People also find feeding birds somewhat therapeutic and relaxing. Once you put out your feeders and see the birds start coming to them, you may feel a sort of responsibility to keep feeding them. Before you know it, it’s your new hobby.
It’s no secret that people spend lots of money on their hobbies and feeding birds is no different. Soon you want different types of feeders and you want to attract different types of birds. Maybe you buy some binoculars so you can better watch them.
Whatever your reasons may be for feeding birds, you have to buy more and more bird seed to keep up with the increasing demand from your backyard friends. Unless perhaps you own a farm and grow your own sunflowers and corn, but for most of us, we have to buy it from somewhere.
Feeding birds can get expensive
I guess expensive is relative. I try and budget everything I buy so I know if I spend more from one month to the next on a recurring purchase like bird seed. If you are more of a casual bird feeder and just buy a bag here and there then this article may not be for you. However if you find yourself regularly buying 10, 20, even 50 pound bags of bird seed then read on. We are going to try and save you some money and time and make your life a little easier and keep your feeders full.
For those of us that do have multiple feeders and buy the big bags of seed, we know it can add up. It’s not at all uncommon for people to spend upwards of $200-$300 a month on bird seed alone.
Especially when you are buying multiple types of seed
We all know there are different types of bird seed that fall into different price ranges. The price is going to depend on how much you buy and where you buy it but some are cheaper than others.
On top of that you’ll go through some faster than you will others. Here are a few common types of bird seed that you may be buying various quantities right now:
- Mixed seed
- Black oil sunflower seeds
- Sunflower hearts
These are just a few common types of seed people buy, you can see more types of bird seed in this article that we wrote. You may also have moved on to buying things like packs of suet and bulk packages of mealworms depending on what types of birds you are trying to attract. These things of course only add to your monthly bird feeding bill.
Online vs buying locally
When it comes to buying bird seed, you’ve got two options; buy it online or at the store.
Buying bird seed online
- A lot of the time it’s going to be cheaper
- Saves you time having to go pick it up, unless you happen to already be at the store
- You can take your time reading ingredients and picking the best for birds
- Get it delivered right to your door (obviously)
- You may have more of a selection
- Some places offer an autoship option (recurring deliveries) for convenience
- Many times it’s free shipping, especially if you’re a Prime member on Amazon
- If you don’t order enough you may run out for a couple of days, you can always run to the store though
- In come cases may be cost a little bit more
Buying bird seed locally
- If you do run out you can go to the store, good for occasional bird feeders
- Never pay shipping (even though you pay for the gas it costs to drive)
- Could possibly be cheaper in some cases depending on where you shop
- It’s a hassle to pick it up
- Takes up your time!
- Loading and unloading 20 or even 50 pound bags of seed out of your car sucks
- There may be a smaller selection
Some viable options to buy bird seed in bulk
I won’t list out every option in the world, but here are some of the best ones out there.
- Agricultural supply stores like Tractor Supply or local feed stores and Co-ops – A solid option for bird seed. Good prices but the quality may be questionable. If it’s locally owned then you can keep your tax dollars in your town if that’s important to you.
- Department stores or home stores like Walmart or Lowes– If you are regularly in Walmart then it may be convenient for you. If you are anything like me then you avoid Walmart like the plague. Their online grocery pickup is a nice option and I have used that in the past for groceries, not for buying bird seed though.
- Big box pet stores such as PetSmart or Petco – If you already visit these frequently to pick up pet food it may be easy to just add in your bird seed. It may be a decent deal if you are part of a VIP club but overall the pricing at these pet stores tends to be a bit high.
- Order online from from Amazon or Chewy.com – Good prices and very convenient, it’s what we do. I have gotten to the point where I like to do almost everything online that I can. Order groceries, pay bills, shop for clothes, buy pet food and bird seed (Chewy).
Where we recommend
We like ordering our seed online as we state throughout this article. So our top 2 choices are from online retailers, but I threw in one local place that has great prices as well.
Amazon is a great option for ordering bird seed online. You have tons of choices and can shop around for the lowest prices. Most of us have Amazon Prime memberships which gives us free 2 day shipping, we trust Amazon, and we order other stuff from there all the time. These things make buying pretty much anything from Amazon very convenient.
Amazon, like Chewy, will also have lots of helpful questions and answers as well as reviews for you to read through.
One thing I’ve found with Chewy that Amazon doesn’t always provide, is nutritional info for the bird seed.
For those of us that like to know exactly what we are feeding to our backyard friends, this is a nice touch that Chewy adds that Amazon doesn’t.
Overall though, Amazon is a great choice for wild bird food of all types. They have an enormous selection and generally really good prices, they just don’t go that extra mile with customer service and making you part of the family like Chewy does. That’s because you are usually buying from third parties that are just using Amazon as a marketplace. Amazon is incredibly convenient and a good place to order bird seed online.
Another place I frequent for bird seed is Chewy. They aren’t going to have Amazon’s vast selection, but if they have what you need they are a fine choice.
Founded in 2011, Chewy has changed the way we buy our pet food and supplies. On the outside it may seem like just another website selling pet food, but it’s much more. Much of their success has come from not only their competitive prices, but their outstanding customer service.
They have 24/7 customer service, with a chat feature, should you need anything at all (unlike Amazon) and I mentioned the highly competitive prices.
They offer $5 flat rate shipping in 1-2 days from one of their 13 fulfillment centers in the US, unless you purchase $49 or more in which case shipping is free.
Chewy has a feature called Autoship which is pretty much just recurring deliveries that you can manage and adjust the frequency of from their app. It really takes all the hassle out of buying bird seed, or any pet food for that matter.
We order all of our cat food and litter from them as well. Additionally you get 30% off (up to $20) of your first order of autoship and an additional 5% off of certain brands making the deal even sweeter.
Savings like that can really add up if you are buying your bird seed in bulk. Especially since there’s a good chance that Chewy’s base prices are already cheaper than what you are paying now.
I would have saved $11 on a seed order just for signing up for autoship, which is just the icing on the cake. If you are worried about ordering the wrong amount or deciding you won’t like it, don’t be.
You can cancel anytime you want and you can change your frequency anywhere from once a week to once every 8 months all in the app.
As mentioned, you may find that Chewy does not have quite the selection that somewhere like Amazon does. If you can find what you want at Chewy I highly suggest giving them a try.
While you’re there you can pick up some dog or cat food as well if you have other pets. You’ll quickly be spoiled with how easy it was and best of all, how much time and money it saves you in the long term!
3. Tractor Supply
If you prefer to go pick up your bird seed then I recommend Tractor Supply. They have low prices and offer free in-store pickup, meaning you order it online and then pick it up at the store. This way you have a larger selection of products they may not always have available in the store.
However, if you choose to actually have it delivered look out for high shipping prices. I have not ordered online from TS before but put in my zip code and went partially through the checkout process only to discover shipping was $10 on a $12 bag of seed.
I won’t lie, if you pick it up at the store you may find some pretty good prices. Especially on the larger bulk bags of seed. Many times cheaper than Amazon or Chewy, but you have to drive to pick it up and that is worth something to me.
Additionally I have read that some of their seed contains lots of filler, namely the notorious milo that some birds don’t seem to like. So watch out for that if you buy from TS.
Don’t forget, time is money!
We’ve talked about saving money throughout this article and how you can shop around to cut costs. I also told you that sometimes you can get a good deal shopping locally, although you may sacrifice quality. What about your time though? What is that worth to you?
To me, my time is valuable. Especially my free time that I could be spending with my kids or taking care of errands that I simply don’t have time to do because I work a full time job.
If I can create more free time for myself by ordering things online and getting them delivered right to my door then I’m going to, especially if there is no sacrifice being made i.e. quality or price.
For those of us that have very busy lives and place a high value on our time ordering things online has really become commonplace. I expect things will only move that direction even more over the years as the internet gets bigger, more people get access to it, and more people start using it.
So if you can save yourself just 30 minutes to an hour a month driving back and forth to the store and picking up bird seed by ordering it online at the same price, why wouldn’t you? What could you do with that extra time? Time equals money.
Make your own bird seed mix
Often when it comes to cutting costs, a great option is figuring out if you can do it yourself. If you like to feed a mixture of seeds, then you can easily make your own seed mix and save some money.
A simple mixture you can make that is fairly cost effective is cracked corn, milo, and sunflower. Cracked corn (also called corn chop) and milo (also called sorghum) are common ingredients found in birdseed, but are also often used to feed livestock on farms. You can get huge bags of cracked corn and milo from agricultural supply stores for fairly cheap. And typically your cost savings is improved by buying at least 25 lbs of sunflower at a time.
Create the seed mix yourself by using a 1 corn : 1 milo : 1/4 sunflower ratio. You can use a bucket and a drinking glass to make it easier. Take one full scoop of corn, one full scoop of milo, but only about one quarter scoop of sunflower. Mix together using your hand or a spoon. Make several batches and store in ziplock bags, metal trash can tins or any other storage container of your choice.
You can mix and match the type of seeds and customize this however you want. The more nutritious ingredients like nut pieces and sunflower cost more, so you can decide the ratios that work for your budget. The idea is to make the bulk of the mix out of the cheaper ingredients, and use the more expensive ingredients a little more sparingly. You can really get the cost per pound down using this method.
This works for suet cakes too. We have a DIY Suet recipe here, and if you are able to buy the ingredients in bulk, like at a Costco or Sams or Aldi, you can really improve your cost per cake.
Don’t feed the pests
Another reason bird seed might be costing you so much is how fast your backyard friends are eating it. If the bulk of your bird seed is getting eaten by squirrels or flocks of hungry starlings, blackbirds or grackles, you may want to consider different feeders.
Now if you WANT to feed squirrels, blackbirds, and other animals that some considered pests, by all means do so. But some people would rather stick to feeding smaller songbirds, or just can’t keep up with the ravenous appetites of the larger birds that travel in flocks.
Feeders with weight-activated mechanisms or protective cages can be a big help in keeping out larger birds and squirrels. If this is an issue for you, check out our dedicated articles:
Poll: How much are people spending on bird seed
Before writing this article I was curious as to how much the average person is spending on bird seed each month. So I went to one of the bird watching groups I’m in on Facebook and created a poll (which ended up getting me kicked out of the group for some reason?) and posed the question. Luckily I got my data before that happened so here are the results:
So what we can deduce from this is that most of the people I polled are spending less than $50 a month. However, 36 out of 100 are spending over $50, 20 out of 100 are spending over $100, and 6 are spending over $200. Granted, this was a small sampling of people and not everyone that feeds birds is on Facebook. So I may conduct another study at a later time but this does give us an idea.
If you fall into that 36% of people spending over $50 a month on bird seed, I consider you a regular bird feeder and could save some time and money by utilizing Chewy’s autoship feature.
And even if you are in the majority that spends less than $50 but maybe have dogs or cats, you can still sign up for Chewy’s autoship, get free shipping if your order is at least $49, and have your pet food and bird seed delivered to your door however frequently works best for you. Give it a try, you can thank me later.
Right now we are all about Chewy and looking forward to continuing our relationship with them for years to come. They may not be the right choice for everyone, I do however recommend that you give them a shot. If you just aren’t really the type of person to order everything online then try Tractor Supply or your local feedmill / farm supply store.
In the end we want quality bird seed, at a good price, convenience, and good customer service. In my opinion Chewy and Amazon hit all of those marks if you choose to order online, Tractor Supply is an option to consider if you prefer picking up your seed local.
Your local home improvement stores (Home Depot / Lowes) will also likely have bird seed. I’ll leave it up to you to decide after you’ve tried them all, and maybe you already have.
Check out our bird seed guide for some helpful info and nutritional facts on the most popular types of bird seed!
Have any of your own tips for saving money on bird seed? Let us know!
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