Feed Birds with a Variety of Foods

By National Gardening Association Editors

Goldfinches frequent backyard bird feeders.

Spring is a perfect time to set out new bird feeders. In addition to attracting local avian residents, you'll also attract birds during their stopovers as they migrate north. Keeping several different types of feeders stocked year-round ensures that a variety of birds will visit as they nest, feed, migrate, and/or overwinter in your region.

Many species of birds are particular about what they'll eat. Some prefer sunflower or nyjer seeds; others prefer suet or nectar. Here are some common bird foods and the types of the birds they'll attract.

Sunflower seed. The high fat content and thin shells of black-oil sunflower seed combine to make it the is the preferred food for many common birds. Striped sunflower seed has a thicker shell and attracts large-beaked birds, such as cardinals and grossbeaks. Ready-to-eat hulled sunflower attracts an especially large variety of birds.

Millet. Millet appeals to many small-beaked, ground-feeding birds; most seem to prefer white proso millet over the red variety. It's eaten by doves, sparrows, juncos, towhees, and red-winged blackbirds, to name a few.

Cracked corn. Cracked corn is on par with millet as a popular food for ground-feeding birds, but it spoils quickly if it gets wet. Put out small quantities or place it in a covered feeder. Cracked corn attracts quail, doves, crows, jays, sparrows, juncos, and towhees.

Milo. Milo (or sorghum) seed is less popular than other seeds, but will attract some ground-feeding birds.

Nyger. Sometimes called niger or thistle (although unrelated to native thistles), it's a favorite of goldfinches, siskins, and redpolls.

Peanuts. Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, jays, cardinals, wrens, mockingbirds, and sparrows are attracted to peanuts. Offer them whole or shelled.

Safflower. A favorite of cardinals, safflower seed will also attract grosbeaks, sparrows, and doves.

Suet. Suet will attract a variety of woodpeckers, as well as cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, and wrens. It's loaded with calories, making it an ideal cold-weather food source. But during hot weather, avoid feeding supermarket suet in hot weather because it becomes rancid. Instead, offer small pieces of commercial suet cakes and refrigerate the extra.

Nectar. The primary food of hummingbirds, the nectar you use in feeders mimics that found in flowers. You can make your own nectar by dissolving one part sugar in four parts boiling water. Allow to cool, then pour into feeder. Refrigerate extra nectar, and clean and refill the feeder every 4 or 5 days.

Bird-Feeding Dos and Don'ts


  • place bird feeders in a sheltered area, away from prevailing winter winds.
  • set bird feeders at different heights.
  • clean birds at least twice a year with a 10% bleach solution.
  • provide a source of fresh, clean (and unfrozen) water.


  • allow your cat to roam freely. Cats are responsible for the deaths of millions of songbirds each year.
  • let stored seed spoil. If you purchase large bags, store it in a sealed container. This keeps seed fresh and prevents rodents from finding your stash.
  • let spilled seed accumulate under feeders; it can get soggy and moldy. Rake it up occasionally and discard.

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