Like humans, birds have different preferences for certain types of foods. So when deciding what to put out in your bird feeders, make sure to focus on foods preferred by birds in your area—especially the ones you’re looking to attract!
But what do birds prefer to eat? Below are 10 of the best foods to offer your backyard birds:
1. Sunflower Seed
A favorite of almost every backyard feeder bird. Sunflower seeds have thin, easy-to-crack shells and can be offered in a wide variety of feeder types, like platform, tube, and hopper feeders. These seeds also have a high-fat content that gives birds needed energy all year long, especially in winter. For the widest appeal, use black oil sunflower seeds.
2. Nyjer® (Thistle) Seed
A finch favorite. Nyjer is a fantastic source of energy-rich fatty oils and protein for feather regrowth after molting. Offer these tiny black seeds in special Nyjer tube feeders or Nyjer socks, both of which should be emptied and cleaned often to avoid spoiled seed.
A favorite treat for a variety of birds. When offered in a mesh tube or in suet, woodpeckers will especially enjoy snacking on them. The rich protein and fats in peanuts are valuable for birds all year round.
4. Safflower Seed
A favorite of cardinals and grosbeaks. High in protein, fiber, and fat, safflower seeds can be offered on tray feeders or in hopper feeders. Plus, offering safflower seed is a great way to get rid of larger bully birds that sometimes monopolize bird feeders (grackles and starlings will typically avoid safflower).
5. White Proso Millet
Inexpensive and nutritious. Millet is a tiny grain that offers more seed volume than larger seed types when packaged in a similarly sized bag. It’s a great option for birders looking for a less expensive yet nutritious alternative to black oil sunflower seed that still attracts a wide variety of birds. White proso millet is preferred over red; if you buy blends with both, ensure that it is indeed red millet and not red milo, a filler seed mostly preferred by larger bully birds.
Healthy fat easy for birds to break down into usable energy. Suet provides a high concentration of energy that birds need to maintain body temperature in the winter. Suet is available in the form of nuggets, logs, cakes, and decorative shapes. The most popular way to offer suet is in cake or block form using suet cage feeders that birds cling to and peck at.
High-octane fuel for hummingbirds. It’s always best to make your own homemade nectar for your hummingbird feeders—and it’s easy too! Simply bring water to a boil and stir table sugar (sucrose) into the hot water at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. The nectar solution will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Food coloring, honey, brown sugar, and sugar substitutes are unnecessary and can be harmful to hummers.
The prime choice for attracting bluebirds. Mealworms are excellent for attracting all kinds of beautiful insect-eating birds and are very easy to use and store. Offer mealworms in window feeders or hanging feeders with a seed dish. You can buy either live or dried mealworms.
9. Fruit & Jelly
A sweet treat for orioles. Offer juicy orange halves or fruity jelly on oriole feeders. Jellies made without added sugar are recommended, as the naturally occurring sugar in the fruit is healthier for the birds (organic jelly is the healthiest). Orioles love fruits and jellies!
10. Shelled & Cracked Corn
Corn can be tricky, but many bird species enjoy it. Offer corn on tray feeders in minimal amounts at a time so that it’s always fresh for the birds. Make sure to get corn intended for bird feeding, as popcorn is unhealthy and harmful, while corn graded for planting (often covered in red dye) contains fungicides toxic to humans and birds. Corn is most at risk of contamination from dangerous aflatoxins, so it’s important to never buy corn in plastic bags and always keep it dry. Only put it out in dry weather, remove old corn frequently, and don’t put corn in tubular feeders, as tube moisture can make the corn wet.