Sometimes our feathered friends need a little help making it through the harsh winter. When temperatures drop, I think about the beautiful birds that have kept my garden colorful and lively throughout the year. Their water sources may freeze up, and food may become scarce, so I make sure their birdbath is flowing — with water and not ice — and their feeders are full. If you want to feed your local birds, first you need to find out what kind of seed they prefer. If you are starting out, buy for the birds you already have, and not the ones you hope to attract. Here are the basics on a few popular seed types that you can easily find at your local garden center or grocery store.
This seed is a great option for ground-feeding birds. You can use a low-hanging feeder, platter, or just toss out a handful at a time — but be careful not to set out more than your birds can eat in a day. And this seed may not be a good option if you have cats. When given the choice, birds usually prefer white millet, so you will often find this in many seed mixes. Millet appeals to doves, juncos, sparrows, thrashers, buntings, Carolina wrens, cardinals and starlings.
This is an inexpensive seed that, because of its tough shell, is best for larger birds with strong bills. It can also be used as a deterrent for pesky raccoons and squirrels. Place some of this seed on a plate away from your bird feeders to lure them away, and help prevent them from ransacking your feeders. Striped sunflower appeals to blue jays, cardinals, some woodpeckers and grosbeaks.
Black Oil Sunflower
This is one of the most popular birdseeds, and will appeal to a wide variety of birds, especially smaller songbirds. It’s a great beginner seed to try. It is rich in oil and gives birds the energy they need to make it through the winter. The thin shells are easy to open, even for smaller birds. Black oil sunflower appeals to cardinals, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, sparrows and woodpeckers.
Thistle, also known as Nyjer seed, will drive your finches wild. It’s a tiny black seed that’s high in oil, which makes it great for winter bird feeding. Be aware, the seeds are very small and lightweight, and can easily blow away if used in the wrong type of feeder. A mesh-style or sock feeder is best for this expensive seed. Thistle appeals to goldfinches, purple finches, redpolls, pine siskins, quail and mourning doves.