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The best birdseed for attracting birds (2024) - A guide for buying bird food for backyards

Updated: Apr 6

Bird food should not be bought haphazardly. Our guide will prevent you from wasting money on waste foods. If you missed our guide to feeders, click here!

A Red Crossbill eats blackoil sunflower seed in a platform birdfeeder
Finches, like these Red Crossbills, love blackoil sunflower seed!

According to some reports and figures, feeding birds is a $4,000,000,000+ industry. How has this industry become such a powerhouse? People waste dollars on birdseed, which mostly becomes waste. How do you know you are not shopping correctly for bird seed and other bird foods?


Here is a list of checks:


You buy birdseed based on the "cover birds." - Many bags of birdseed put photos of birds on the cover that you have no chance of attracting. Often, seed bags have birds found in the UK on the cover of seed sold in North America. Ouch.


You buy birdseed with "Deluxe Blend" or "Wild Bird Food," instead of reading the ingredients. - If you see a bag of bird food with "Deluxe Blend," R-U-N! A deluxe blend equals a deluxe waste of money. If you buy a deluxe blend, all you are doing is supporting a CEO's deluxe lifestyle. STOP! Simplify. (Okay, we are being very hyperbolic here, but those extra adjectives mean very little.)

You look for the cheapest bag you can find. - Does buying the cheapest item available ever work out? If you are feeding on a budget, buy smaller bags of the good stuff and put your birds on a RATION! That's right, give those piggies a diet. Put the limited food out on a schedule and train those little feathered blighters when to arrive and provide enjoyment.


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Want the summary of our recommendations? Check them out here:

Birds Attracted

Seed Type

Link

Finches, cardinals, chickadees

Sunflower Seed

Woodpeckers, nuthatches, warblers

Suet

Juncos, doves, sparrows

Millet

Small finches, juncos, chickadees

Nyjer

Jays, magpies, crows

Peanuts

Anti-starlings & House Sparrows

Safflower

Wide variety

Mixed


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The best birdseed for attracting birds

We do not flock around when it comes to recommendations. Our recommendations are safe, healthy for birds, and provide value for the investment. However, our bird seed and other bird food recommendations are not brand-based; instead, we base our recommendations on BIRD FOOD TYPE. Without feather ado, let us begin. Different bird food types can attract different birds, simply put. Alter the foods you offer to attract a larger variety of birds! What are our top birdseed recommendations? Here they are:


Best overall birdseed: sunflower seed

Sunflower seed is the best all-around birdseed you can buy. It attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, tits, cardinals, grosbeaks, buntings, sparrows, finches, and more! Sunflower seeds are a great source of fat, fiber, protein, calcium, and several other vitamins and minerals. Black oil sunflower seed is best, and we here at Flocking Around prefer small seed, sunflower seed. Striped sunflower seeds can also be used. However, we find many species prefer black oil sunflower seed.


Best sunflower seed: KAYTEE

Why does KAYTEE rank at the top for sunflower seed? Consistency. Many bulk bags, while seemingly of great value, can contain a high percentage of chaff, waste, and other materials. These low-value plant pieces affect the true seed percentage (TSP), which is the percentage of edible seed parts to inedible seed parts in a birdseed bag.


Disclaimer: KAYTEE does not sponsor me, offer me incentives, or pay me to endorse their products.


For example, if a ten-pound bag of birdseed is 40% waste material and only has a 60% true seed percentage (TSP) but is priced at $20, it is not as great of a value when compared to another brand priced at $25 but with an 85% true seed percentage (TSP). The first bag has an edible seed value (ESV) of $3.33 per pound, and the second bag has an edible seed value (ESV) of $2.94. Based upon these numbers, the second bag is actually cheaper, per pound, for the parts that are actually consumable by birds. KAYTEE consistently has some of the best TSP (in my measurements) of the seeds regularly available to most consumers.


Best place to buy sunflower seed

The best way to buy sunflower seeds of any brand is in a local feed, hardware, or gardening store. You can often buy in bulk, lessening your cost per pound. However, if you cannot buy it in a local store, the Kaytee 5 lb Black Oil Sunflower Seed is not outrageously priced when sourced online. But again, buying in-store will likely provide you with the best value.


What birds eat sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds may attract the largest variety of birds (at feeders). Big and small, almost all birds are willing to feed at a trough full of sunflower seeds. Here are just some of the birds that sunflower seed will attract:

  • Cardinals

  • Chickadees

  • Finches

  • Juncos

  • Jays

  • Nuthatches

  • Titmice

  • Sparrows

  • Magpies

  • Woodpeckers

  • Crows

  • Turkeys

  • Quail

  • and more!

How you present the food will also determine which species are attracted. Obviously, a quail is unlikely to visit a hanging feeder but, instead, would eat at a platform feeder on the ground.


The best finch seed: Nyjer or thistle seed

Nyjer seed, also called thistle seed, is a great attractant for finches, juncos, and other species of sparrows. While it is also called thistle, it is not one of the noxious thistle plants found in North America, nor does it resemble a thistle when it grows. In fact, it resembles a dandelion or miniature sunflower, and the seed is derived from the plant described as Guizotia abyssinica. Another major benefit of Nyjer seed is the lack of major waste on the ground. The hulls are small, and the birds waste very little else. This makes the ground mess almost null! Finall, Nyjer seed is heated to prevent germination if the seeds fall to the ground. So, do not let your neighbors give you grief for sharing it with birds!


Finches love Nyjer, especially in winter, as it is a great source of fat and protein. However, recent studies show the sourcing of Nyjer can be critical to how quickly birds will consume the seed. Keep an eye out for a future post on this topic!


Want to learn more about Nyjer seed? Visit our special post on this very topic!


The Best Seed for Finches: Nyjer Seed

Studies have shown that Nyjer seed sourced from Africa has less rancidity than Nyjer sourced from India. Unfortunately, companies often have to source from multiple countries, and picking a brand based on its sourcing location might be difficult. I again recommend KAYTEE for Nyjer seed. It is consistently consumed by goldfinches and siskins here at the Flocking Roost, and I am forced to waste very little of it.


The best place to buy Nyjer seed

Again, the best way to purchase Nyjer seed is in a local feed, hardware, or gardening store. You can often buy in bulk, lessening your cost per pound. If that is not possible, Kaytee Nyjer Seed from an online vendor is a decent deal.


What birds does Nyjer seed attract?

Nyjer seed is an excellent alternative to sunflower seed if you are getting too many pest species, such as squirrels and House Sparrows. Why? They do not prefer Nyjer seed, even though it is in the sunflower family. So, what birds love to eat Nyjer seed?

  • Finches

  • Chickadees

  • Juncos

  • Titmice

  • Sparrows

You may also hear Nyjer seed referred to as thistle seed. Please note, this is NOT thistle seed and will not produce a thistle plant or any other viable plant.


Use millet to attract doves, jays, quail, & cardinals

Millet is a small birdseed used often to attract doves. However, it is a great bird food option to attract juncos, buntings, chickadees, quail, cardinals, and some jays! In fact, the Steller's Jays at Flocking Around headquarters LOVE to fill their crops with millet seed. Monitoring Mourning Dove populations often involves using millet as bait. Millet is a cheap seed that can be used in unison with black oil sunflower seed.


For a mixed millet selection of red milo and white millet, grab a bag of Mourning Song Dove Seed! Using a ground feeder or spreading the seed in an open space can attract a variety of doves and quail.


Peanuts attract Blue Jays, Steller's Jays, and more!

Black oil sunflower seed is a great way to attract Blue Jays. However, there is a bird food option that drives Blue Jays nuts, literally! Blue Jays LOVE peanuts! Other corvids, like Black-billed Magpies and Steller's Jays, also will devour peanuts. Peanuts are a heavier cost, so consider feeding them in a rationed fashion if your budget is limited. Just make sure to purchase unsalted peanuts. (Peanuts in the bird feeder aisles should be salt-free already.)


Birdseed to get rid of House Sparrows, European Starlings, and squirrels

Safflower seed is often pointed to by bird lovers who struggle with European Starlings or squirrels mobbing their feeders. However, it may not discourage all "pests" for long. Is it worth a try if your feeders are overrun with starlings? Absolutely. However, it can be an expensive alternative. Give it a try, but if it does not deter the birds and mammals that you do not want using your feeders, go back to sunflower seed and look into additional options.


Not all local stores will carry safflower seeds. If they do, you will likely find a better deal with those stores. However, if your stores do not carry it, trying a small bag like Wagner's Safflower Seed may be worth a try.


What is the best suet?

Suet is a great food option for attracting woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, jays, and even the occasional warbler. It is best used in cooler months, as the suet can get soft or melt during the summer. Here at Flocking Around, we feed multiple kinds of seeds. So, when we put out suet cakes, we prefer those that have foods not included in our regularly provided menu. For us, that includes fruits, berries, mealworms, and peanuts.


The best suet: C&S Orange Suet Dough

Most local garden, feed, and hardware stores offer a variety of suets. However, if they do not, here is a link to investigate the many options available online: Suet.


What is the best birdseed mix?

Some bird seed mixes contain filler seeds that are unlikely to attract the attention of your backyard friends, as the main seeds listed in the previous sections. Occasionally, a company releases a seed mix that is irresistible to birds. Mixes that contain black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts, tree nuts, and fruits have the greatest chance to attract a wide variety of bird species. From corvids like Blue Jays and American Crows to thrushes like Eastern Bluebirds and American Robins, a mix with premium ingredients offers the greatest opportunity to lure in birds that otherwise may not be regular feeder visitors. To accomplish this task at the Flocking Roost, we use the KAYTEE Nut and Fruit Blend!

an orange and gray bird with a yellow bill sits on a green platform feeder
It is not often you see an American Robin on a bird feeder! A fruit and nut blend helped lure in this delight!

Homemade Hummingbird Food

Please, please, please, DO NOT USE RED DYE! If you do not believe you have the time to make your own hummingbird food, then plant flowers that attract hummingbirds. Purchasing hummingbird food with red dyes is not helping birds. DO NOT DO IT.


Now, to make your own hummingbird food, follow these steps:

  1. Mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water (for example, 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water) until the sugar is dissolved - Make sure to only use REFINED WHITE SUGAR - Do not use honey

  2. DO NOT ADD ANY DYE or EXTRACTS

  3. Fill your hummingbird feeder with homemade food

  4. Extra hummingbird food can be stored in a refrigerator

Here at Flocking Around, we make enough food to last for several weeks and store it in sealed glass jars. If you are worried about the time required to make food, this is a great way to prepare for multiple feeder refills. Of course, the whole process takes less than 10 minutes, but we still won't discourage a well-prepped birdwatcher!


Top Hummingbird Food

In the past few years, a new pre-made hummingbird food has been introduced to the market. It is called EZ Nectar, and it is the first pre-made hummingbird food that I have found that uses ONLY sugar and water. If the ingredients list is being honest, then this is a boon for those who struggle to make their own food. We will do more investigation on this food, but in the meantime, check it out for yourself!


Top Plants for Feeding Birds

Native plants are often the best way to support birds. Plants provide food by the insects that feed upon them in summer, and then often, they provide food through berries or seeds after the growing season has finished. The best way to find out which native plants are great for attracting and helping birds in your area is to use the National Audubon Society's Native Plant Database. However, this database can oversimplify if you know your plants. So, if you have a good grasp of plants and gardening, visit the North American Plant Atlas of the Biota of North America Program.


How to buy birdseed

AVOID PURCHASING PRE-MIXED SEEDS. - That is the most important advice I can offer. Buy one or a combination of the three types of seed offered in this guide: sunflower, Nyjer, and millet. It will attract more birds and waste less money than any other option. If you want more seed options, consider milo, red millet, corn, or canary seed.


Feeding birds can be an enjoyable experience and hobby. However, it can require serious effort and research! We hope this guide helps reduce the time required for the preparation of feeding birds. We also hope we saved you from wasting money on the multitude of waste birdseed on the market.


 

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1 Comment


i planted a whole bunch of bird seed last fall but the birds haven't started to come up yet, what am i doing wrong? hellpp!

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