A Guide to Feeding Wild Birds

It's easy to attract wild birds to your backyard if you know what to feed them.

  • cardinal
    Cardinals are particularly fond of safflower seeds.
  • blue jay
    Blue jays and woodpeckers can crack open peanuts in the shell.

  • cardinal
  • blue jay

The easiest and surest way to attract birds to your backyard is to provide supplemental food for them. People are sometimes deterred from feeding their backyard birds by the belief that, once they start feeding, they must continue throughout the winter because the birds will become dependent on the supplemental food. This is untrue.

Recent studies conducted at the University of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania State University prove conclusively that even the most feeder-habituated birds forage for at least 80 percent of their diet.

The question, then, is no longer whether to feed, but what to feed. Corn for just chickadees, or crossbills as well? How does one attract the seed-snubbing orioles? What is proper finch cuisine? Here's a short course on what to feed wild birds.


The birds most likely to come to a bird feeder are those that eat seeds, so seeds are what you should offer. But what kind? A major study of birdseed preferences was conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1980. Two seeds were clear favorites: black-oil sunflower seeds and white proso millet. Other desirable seed foods in the study include safflower seeds, thistle (Niger) seeds, peanuts and corn.

Sunflower Seeds

All birds love sunflower seeds. The large, white- or gray-striped seeds that humans eat are attractive to birds, but they strongly prefer the smaller black-oil type. Black-oil sunflower seeds have several advantages over the striped kind. They have a higher mean-to-shell ratio; are more nutritious with a higher fat content; have thinner shells that are easier for small birds to crack; are smaller and thus easier to manipulate in the bill; and are cheaper.

Sunflower seeds are particularly attractive to chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, pine siskins, redpolls, titmice, finches, crossbills and grosbeaks.

10/4/2020 9:26:08 AM

can you feed farro to birds?

12/25/2008 9:01:58 AM

My daughters saw a birdfeeder made from a Jim Beam liquor bottle and I'd like to make one myself if I had directions. Can anyone help me? Thanks! Denise

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