For the Birds: Bird Food – or Not

Friday, July 3, 2020

American Goldfinches on black-oil sunflower seeds
Photo by Christine Southwick
By Christine Southwick

People sometimes ask me what foods to feed birds. I also tell them what not to offer.

Do you have shrubs and trees for your birds to rest, feed, and evade predators? Is your yard mostly open, mixed shading, or heavily shaded with branches? This will determine the answer to the next question.

Which birds do you have, and which birds do you hope to invite?

The universal food for the most species of local birds is black oil sunflower seeds, unshelled or shelled.

Seed mixes draw in other species and will add extra nutrients that can help spring nesting birds and winter-time survival. They often need different feeders, but variety provides more places to feed.

Hairy Woodpecker female juvenile
(aged by red on top of head)
Photo by Craig Kerns

I always provide suet, year-round to help the birds with high protein food. Suet will bring in woodpeckers, plus you will be able to watch chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches cling to the suet holders while chomping away. 

In the summer one can buy suet that is no-melt.

There is also suet that has hot pepper that squirrels avoid.

Many people want American Goldfinches to come to their yards, and they go buy niger (thistle) seed, and then are disappointed when the goldfinches never come.

If your yard has heavy shade you probably won’t get goldfinches, no matter what food you offer.

American Goldfinches prefer open fields and shrubs but will feed from feeders that are out in the open, once they find it.

 Niger seed often spoils here in the Puget Sound area, due to all the rain and damp mornings.

Cedar Waxwing on serviceberry tree
stock photo
Cedar Waxwings love Serviceberry trees, and Black-headed Grosbeaks like grape jelly and orange slices. If you put out apple slices, take out the seeds-they have cyanide.

If you want to feed the ducks feed them cracked corn, NOT bread.

Bread doesn’t provide any nutrients— it just makes ducks and birds come close to you.

Shoreline Parks (and other parks in this area) do not permit the feeding of waterfowl and other animals due to leftover food bringing in varmints - plus it is not healthy for wildlife.

House Finch on seed mix
Photo by Craig Kerns
Fruiting native shrubs and trees will bring in birds and help compensate for the major loss of suitable habitat for migrating and resident birds and these plantings help pollinators too.

Moving water will also bring in birds for much needed drinks and baths.





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