Over the Garden Fence: Feeder offerings will determine bird sightings

Birds eat out of a feeder at Bald Eagle State Park.
Birds eat out of a feeder at Bald Eagle State Park. CDT file photo

During the winter months I enjoy watching the different birds come and go from my feeders. A few comments and suggestions on which seeds to put in your feeder may make your bird watching more enjoyable during the coming months.

You can purchase your seeds at most supermarkets, livestock feed stores and garden centers, pet stores or through catalogs. Here are some of the seeds that I have used.

Black oil sunflower seed: This seed is considered the No. 1 choice to feed and attract the greatest variety of birds to your feeders. Rich in oil, black oil sunflower seeds give birds the energy they need to live. The thin shell makes it an easy seed to open for even small birds. Offer this type of food in hopper or tube-type bird feeder and you’ll attract cardinals, nuthatches, finches, tufted titmouse and a variety of other birds. If you were going to offer only one type of seed, I would suggest black oil sunflower seed.

Hulled sunflower seed: This seed is the same as above except the shell has been removed, which makes it more expensive, so offer it in a squirrel-proof feeder.

Keeping squirrels from helping themselves to your birdseed is a challenge that will keep you occupied and cause many funny moments. The nice thing about offering sunflower hearts and chips is that there is no mess, because all of the birdseed will be eaten. If this is a concern in the area you are feeding birds, try using hulled seed. You’ll attract the same birds without the mess.

Safflower seed: This seed is a favorite of the northern cardinal and house finches, and mourning doves also will feed on this type. The nice thing about this variety of seed is that most squirrels will leave it alone and you can place it on a platform/hopper feeder. Cardinals can more easily feed from tray/platform feeders rather than ones with small perches. I have found that the cardinals feed on the dropped seed on the ground.

Nyjer: Also known as thistle seed, this is a finch favorite and is a specialty food loved by goldfinches, purple finches and even mourning doves. This tiny black seed from India and Africa is available at most places that offer wild bird food. Long used in canary mixes, nyjer is common as a wild bird food source. Goldfinches are attracted more to the nyjer than sunflower seed. Even as tiny as this seed is, it still has a shell (hull) that will pile up on the ground. Fortunately, the seeds will not sprout because the seed was sterilized before entering the U.S. A special feeder with small ports will be needed when offering this seed.

Striped sunflower seed: While most birds prefer black oil sunflower to striped sunflower seed, it still remains a cheaper alternative. Try placing some away from your regular feeders on a platform feeder to prevent squirrels and raccoons from raiding your regular feeders. The shell is harder than black oil sunflower seed, making it more difficult for small birds to open. Still, bluejays, cardinals and some woodpeckers will make use of striped sunflower.

Cracked or whole kernel corn: Corn varieties of feed will attract eastern bluebirds, jays, pheasants , and other game birds. By offering cracked corn throughout the year, you’ll be able to watch birds that normally don’t visit your other feeders. This feed is available at feed supply and bird-watching aisles of most stores. It is best to place cracked corn on platform feeders or scattered on the ground for game birds. Be aware that mammals also likely will visit for a bite, including racoons, opossums and rodents. .

Premium birdseed mixes: Variety packs of birdseed feature a mixture of seeds that are attractive to a variety of birds. Generally consisting of black oil sunflower, peanut, millet, striped sunflower and others mixed together. I tend to offer each separately because less desirable birds may drive away the more desirable birds.

Cheap birdseed mixes won’t be labeled as such, but cheap mixes rarely attract the most desirable birds. Generally these mixes consist of red and white milo, cracked corn, wheat, striped sunflower and other seeds.

Suet: While not considered birdseed, suet attracts many birds, so it is worth a mention. Suet is made from beef fat. Most stores that offer seed also offer suet. You’ll find a wide variety of suet types, including some mixed with birdseed, berries and peanut butter. Some of the birds that enjoy suet are black capped chickadees, woodpeckers, nuthatches and wrens. Offer suet in a suet feeder, a special wire cage. My mother used to make her own suet. She would use a pine log with holes drilled in it to hold the suet; . Under each hole, a small stick was placed for the birds to hold on to while they enjoyed the suet.

Know that you know what seeds attract which birds, pick your variety and enjoy watching the birds this winter.