The Best Foods to Attract Birds to Your Backyard
Seeds, staples of backyard bird feeding, come in a sometimes confusing variety. Yet a few basic types will satisfy a diverse clientele. Other foods may attract different birds.
• Sunflower seeds: These come in two kinds. The smaller black-oil sunflower seeds will bring the greatest variety of species, from chickadees and titmice to jays. The larger striped type is better for strong-billed birds such as Purple Finches and Evening Grosbeaks. Even woodpeckers will visit a hopper or tray feeder for sunflower seeds.
• Mixed seeds: A birdseed mix should be an important part of any backyard menu, but quality varies greatly. The best mixtures are combinations of black-oil sunflower, white proso millet, bits of nuts and corn, and perhaps safflower as well. Avoid the least expensive mixtures, which are filled with the small globes of red milo, which very few birds except doves eat.
• Nuts and corn: Almost all seed-eating birds will enjoy unsalted nuts broken into bits with a rolling pin, and larger birds including jays will like cracked corn (although rake it up if it gets wet). Scatter the nuts and corn on the ground and hope that the birds will get their fair share before the squirrels arrive for breakfast.
• Suet and peanut butter: These are high-energy winter foods loved by many species. See page 23 for tips on how to provide them. Suet is favored especially by woodpeckers. Peanut butter is a source of crucial energy for birds in winter, and it can be lifesaving for Carolina Wrens at the northern end of their range in a harsh season.
• Fruits: Oranges cut in half or apples and other fruits cut in pieces are favorites of orioles, especially when they return in the spring to breed. Berries are a favored winter food for thrushes, Cedar Waxwings, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, but these are best provided by landscaping with shrubs that will be loaded with berries during fall and winter.
• Specialties: Experiment with other types of foods such as mealworms, which parents feed to nestlings; crushed oyster shell, a source of calcium; or stone grit, which various birds require to crush foods in their gizzard. Avoid using old bread.
• Hummingbird food: Nothing beats the classic, simple recipe of one part white granulated sugar to four parts water. Boil the water, then add the sugar and stir. Don’t use food coloring or artificial sweetener.
Excerpted from National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Birds of North America by Jonathan Alderfer and Paul Hess. Copyright © 2011 by Jonathan Alderfer and Paul Hess. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.