The Richmond Register

January 16, 2013

Smaller birds prefer sunflower seeds

By Amanda Sears
Extension Agent

RICHMOND — The type of seed you provide influences how many birds come to your feeder. The best all-round is probably the small black-oil sunflower seed. It costs a little more, but is preferred by many smaller species, including chickadees, nuthatches and titmice. It has a high oil content that is nutritionally important for birds, and a thin seed coat that is easy for them to crack open.

The striped sunflower seed, slightly larger, is very popular with blue jays and cardinals, but it is difficult for many smaller species to crack open. Sunflower seeds usually are provided in a hanging feeder. A disadvantage of sunflower seeds is that birds crack them open to eat the hearts and then drop the hulls on the ground, creating a mess under the feeder. You may instead opt to buy hulled sunflower seeds, which come without the seed coat. These are more expensive but leave no mess.

If you want to attract a variety of species, try providing a variety of foods. Besides sunflower seeds, other popular seed types include white proso millet, niger and peanuts. White proso millet is cheap and attracts many species, but it may also attract less desirable ones, such as house sparrow.

Niger or thistle seed is popular because of its attractiveness to goldfinches, house finches and purple finches. Niger seed is very small and usually offered in a special feeder with small holes for dispensing the seeds. Peanuts attract blue jays, chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers. They can be offered as shelled kernels, in the shell, or as peanut hearts — the small chips left when peanut halves are broken apart. The hearts are valuable because they are small and can be eaten by many smaller species of birds.

Many feed stores and specialty stores sell a birdseed mix whose content allows you to provide a variety of seed in one place. When purchasing a mix, look at the seed content. All seed is not alike, and birds can tell the difference among seeds.

Some of the inexpensive commercial mixes contain items such as wheat, milo, hulled oats, rice, and rye seed that are not attractive to birds. If you have used these mixes in the past, you may have noticed how the birds sorted through the mix, selecting the seeds they preferred and discarding the rest. (Source: Pennsylvania Wildlife Publication No. 11)


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