Like humans, birds have different preferences for certain types of foods, and different foods meet different birds’ nutritional needs best. When deciding what to put in your bird feeders, it is best to choose foods preferred by birds in your area, especially the species you’re hoping to attract.
But what foods do different birds prefer? These are 10 of the best foods that will appeal to the greatest number of backyard bird species.
1. Sunflower Seed
This widespread, familiar seed is 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, including platform, tube, and hopper feeders. These seeds also have a high-fat content that gives birds needed energy all year long, from spring and fall migration as well as through the stress of the summer breeding season and the rigors of a challenging winter. For the widest appeal, use black oil sunflower seeds, or if you want to avoid the mess of discarded hulls, opt for sunflower hearts.
2. Nyjer® (Thistle) Seed
These tiny, oil-rich seeds are a favorite of goldfinches, redpolls, siskins, and other finches. Nyjer is a fantastic source of energy-rich fatty oils and protein for feather regrowth after molting or as young birds mature. Offer these tiny black seeds in special Nyjer tube feeders, metal mesh feeders, or Nyjer socks, all of which should be emptied and cleaned often to avoid spoiled or clumped seed. Larger feeders are ideal to accommodate more birds, as these small finches often travel and feed in flocks.
See also: How to Clean Your Bird Feeders
Easy-to-offer peanuts are a favorite treat for a variety of birds, including jays, chickadees, wrens, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Peanuts can be offered loose in a dish or platform, or can fill hopper feeders or specialized peanut feeders. The rich protein and fats in peanuts are valuable for birds all year round, whether you offer whole or shelled peanuts, or even peanut butter. Peanuts can also be part of suet blends for extra-rich winter feeding. Avoid salted, seasoned, or candy-coated peanuts, however, as none of these options are healthy for wild birds.
4. Safflower Seed
These somewhat bitter, white seeds are especially popular with 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 deter larger bully birds such as grackles and starlings that sometimes monopolize bird feeders, as these birds don’t tend to care for safflower. As an added bonus, many squirrels and chipmunks will also avoid safflower.
5. White Proso Millet
This small, carb-rich grain is inexpensive and nutritious. Millet offers more seed volume than larger seed types when packaged in a similarly sized bag, making it great for bird feeding on a budget. 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 birds rather than the smaller finches, buntings, and juncos that enjoy millet.
Cakes of suet provide healthy fat that is easy for birds to break down into usable energy, which is especially critical for winter birds to maintain body temperature during cold nights. Suet is available as nuggets, balls, logs, cakes, and fun decorative shapes like bells and hearts. The most popular way to offer suet is in cake or block form using suet cage feeders that birds cling to and peck at. Softened suet can also be spread directly on trees for climbing birds like creepers and nuthatches to nibble.
Sweet nectar is high-octane fuel for hummingbirds and orioles. It’s always best to make your own homemade nectar for your hummingbird feeders—and it’s easy too! Simply stir table sugar (sucrose) into hot water at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. There is no need to boil the nectar, though warmer water will dissolve sugar more quickly. Homemade nectar will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Food coloring, honey, brown sugar, molasses, and sugar substitutes are unnecessary and can be harmful to hummers and orioles alike.
Live, dried, or roasted, mealworms are the prime choice for attracting bluebirds and many other beautiful, insect-loving birds such as thrushes and thrashers. Offer mealworms in window feeders or hanging feeders with a seed dish to get the best views of hungry visitors. You can buy either live or dried mealworms, or you can even try raising your own mealworms.
9. Fruit & Jelly
Orioles are well known for their sweet preferences, and fruit and jelly attract these birds in colorful flocks. Offer juicy orange halves or grape jelly on oriole feeders or in small dishes. Jellies made without added sugar are recommended, as the naturally occurring sugar in the fruit is healthier for the birds. In addition to orioles, other birds that love fruit and jelly include catbirds, grosbeaks, and tanagers.
10. Shelled & Cracked Corn
Corn can be tricky to offer to birds, but many bird species enjoy it. Offer corn on tray feeders in minimal amounts so it is always fresh. 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 birds. Only put corn out in dry weather, remove old corn frequently, and don’t put corn in tube feeders, as tube moisture can make the corn wet and create dangerous mold. Quail, doves, ducks, towhees, blackbirds, jays, and pheasants all enjoy corn from low platforms or ground feeders.