Types of Bird Food
People aren’t the only ones with unique food preferences. The secret to attracting your favorite types of birds is by offering their favorite foods—from seed to nectar, and even fruit.
Learn about all your bird food options and start attracting a greater variety of birds to your backyard bird feeders.
Black-oil sunflower seed is one of the most popular bird feeder foods among wild birds. These seeds have a broad appeal thanks to their thin, easy-to-crack shells and high fat content. Sunflower seed can be purchased without shells (often labeled as “hulled”) to reduce mess around feeders. Almost any bird will be enticed to a feeder with sunflower seed, so it’s a great all-purpose bird food for bird feeding beginners and enthusiasts.
Sunflower seed can be used in a wide variety of feeder types, like platform, tube, and hopper feeders. Black-oil sunflower seed will attract cardinals, jays, chickadees, titmice, finches, woodpeckers and many other birds.
Thistle—sometimes called Nyjer®—is rich in fat, fiber, sugar and protein. Irresistible to many small birds, it’s a popular year-round food thanks to its high-energy content.
These tiny seeds are ideal for attracting finches of any kind, as well as pine siskins, buntings, dark-eyed juncos and mourning doves. Because of its small size, this seed is best offered from a specialized style of bird feeder with very small openings. Whether it's a tube feeder with narrow ports, a screen feeder or a mesh sock, finch feeders allow you to serve thistle without any waste.
Mixed bird seed varies greatly in quality and seed blend content. Reputable brands will limit the use of fillers like golden millet, red millet or flax. Most birds tend to avoid these seeds, and they will largely be tossed aside at your bird feeders.
Still, mixed seed can be very attractive to birds if the ingredients are good. Look for a blend containing seeds like sunflower seed, sunflower chips, white proso millet, safflower or peanuts. Mixed bird seed can be used with almost any type of wild bird feeder, including tube, hopper, platform, and screen feeders.
If you want to attract hummingbirds, offering nectar is the easiest way to do it. Typically, nectar is a simple solution of sugar and water—usually one part sugar to four parts water. The idea is to mimic the natural sugar content of wild flowers that hummingbirds would normally drink from. Some commercial hummingbird nectars also contain vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D to help hummingbirds make strong egg shells.
Nectar is popular among all types of hummingbirds and orioles. Occasionally, chickadees, finches and woodpeckers might also consume nectar. Use nectar in hummingbird feeders, and in oriole feeders designed for nectar.
Suet is a solidified mix of fats, often formed into what is referred to as a suet cake. Common ingredients include bird seed, peanut butter and animal fat. While this high-calorie bird food is commonly used in winter to help when food sources are scarce, suet can be served year-round. Homemade suet is easy to make, and it can be made in bulk and stored for long periods of time. Note that suet can melt when exposed to high temperatures.
Suet is known to be especially popular among woodpeckers, but it will also attract birds like chickadees, flickers, and wrens. Suet cakes and nuggets are usually served from suet feeders—a wire cage hung from a chain, attached to a pole, or even attached to a seed feeder.
We’re all familiar with peanuts. They are a highly nutritional food for birds, and a great source of unsaturated “good” fat. Peanuts can be served to birds with or without the shell, though shells can create quite the mess below your feeder. It can be pricey to feed peanuts to birds, so many bird feeders opt to offer them as an occasional treat. Never serve salted or flavored peanuts to birds, as they can be harmful.
Jays—including blue jays—are notorious peanut lovers. Cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers, titmice, dark-eyed juncos and many other birds also enjoy peanuts. Shell-on peanuts are best served from a platform feeder, while shelled peanuts can be served from a specialized peanut feeder.
Mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle, sometimes called the mealworm beetle. They can be served fresh (live) or dried, and are an excellent source of protein for birds. Fresh mealworms can be irresistibly enticing to birds as they wriggle around in a tray. Dried mealworms are also widely enjoyed, and they have the added benefit of easy storage.
Mealworms are alluring to most birds, including buntings, flycatchers, grosbeaks and orioles. Bluebirds are known to be voracious mealworm eaters. Often, mealworms are one of the few foods that will attract them to a bird feeder.
Many wild birds incorporate fruit as a seasonal part of their natural diet. Any fruit that a person can eat is also suitable for birds, from apples, to oranges and grapes. But birds can also eat some berries that are considered toxic to humans. Serving fruit to birds is a great way to avoid wasting overripe or discarded pieces of it. The sugar in fruit gives birds much-needed energy for intensive tasks like migration or molting.
Fruit can be served whole or cut into chunks for birds. You can place it on a platform, in a dish, on a hook specifically designed for fruit feeding. Orioles are known fruit lovers, but they’re not the only ones. Robins, waxwings, finches, tanagers and many other birds will happily flock to fruit.