Good nutrition is essential for overall good health, and a healthy diet is just as important for wild birds as it is for the humans that fill their feeders. Understanding the nutritional value of ingredients in different birdseed mixes can help you choose the very best seed to offer wild birds to keep them healthy all year long.
Nutrition Wild Birds Need
All birds need good basic nutrition, including protein to create strong muscles and feathers, as well as fats and carbohydrates for energy. Fiber is necessary for digestive health, while carbohydrates provide fast energy. Calcium is a must-have for strong eggshells and bones, while other trace minerals and vitamins, including phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc, help create a balanced diet to meet all of a wild bird's nutritional needs.
Different natural food sources, including grains, seeds, insects, fruit, nuts, and nectar, give birds the nutrition they need. Birds often change their diets throughout the year as their needs change, such as requiring more calcium-rich foods during the nesting season and when baby birds are growing or needing more quick energy while migrating in spring and fall.
Learn about the benefits of different seeds below in order to choose the best bird food blends for your beautiful backyard birds.
Nutritional Value of Birdseed
Different types of birdseed offer different nutritional components. Understanding the most popular seeds and what they offer is helpful for backyard birders to provide the best nutrition at feeders.
Both black oil sunflower and striped sunflower seeds are high in protein, fat, and fiber, and are among the most familiar and popular seeds birds enjoy. Sunflower seeds also provide vitamins B and E to hungry birds, as well as calcium, iron, and potassium. Black oil sunflower seeds have thinner shells and are easier to crack, while striped sunflower seeds have slightly thicker, sturdier shells. Sunflower hearts are another great option but are more expensive and may mold more quickly if they get wet.
Buying blends with sunflower seeds is an easy way to attract a variety of birds because many birds enjoy sunflower seeds, including grosbeaks, buntings, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, jays, sparrows, wrens, chickadees, woodpeckers, and more. If birders could only offer one seed at their feeders, sunflower seed is the ideal choice for the best nutrition that will appeal to the most species year-round.
These medium-sized, white hulled seeds are rich in fat, carbohydrates, calcium, and protein, as well as trace minerals including magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins A and B. This makes safflower seed a healthy option for year-round feeding, similar to sunflower seeds. These seeds do have a bitter taste, however, and while birds don't mind the flavor, squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons may avoid the seed. This can make safflower seed a great choice if these unwanted visitors are usurping too much seed.
Safflower seed is enjoyed by many of the same birds that eat sunflower seeds, including grosbeaks, buntings, titmice, cardinals, and nuthatches.
Rich in fat and protein, vitamins A and E, and important trace minerals like zinc, iron, potassium, and phosphorus, peanuts are a very nutritious food for many wild birds. Whole or shelled peanuts are often mixed in with premium birdseed, or either raw or roasted peanuts can be offered to birds independently and they will love it. Avoid salted peanuts or any nuts with flavorings, seasonings, or candy coatings, however, as those additives are not healthy for wild birds.
Many birds go wild for peanuts, including jays, titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, and woodpeckers.
Tiny millet seeds are packed with fiber, fat, and protein, and they offer quick energy to birds. This seed also contains vitamin B and other trace minerals, and is a good choice to offer birds.
These small seeds are often part of finch or canary birdseed mixes, but species such as juncos, buntings, tanagers, and sparrows also enjoy millet. Millet is used in many birdseed mixes and helps those mixes attract even more species.
Nyjer® is a high-fat, high-calorie seed that also offers birds significant protein and fiber. Because of its high oil content, this seed is ideal for winter feeding when birds need more fat and calories to keep warm and survive dropping temperatures.
Small seed-loving birds such as redpolls, siskins, and goldfinches are especially fond of Nyjer®, and these tiny seeds are best offered in small mesh or sock-style feeders for clinging birds to easily access.
Cracked corn contains carbohydrates and fiber. This grain does not have as much other nutrition, however, and should not be offered as the only source of food for hungry birds – it will fill their bellies but will not provide complete nutrition. In fall and winter, however, it can be an extra source of welcome calories. Many ground-feeding birds will eat cracked corn, including quail, turkeys, doves, towhees, and sparrows.
Another seed commonly found in value birdseed mixes is milo – also call sorghum. Milo is a bb-sized grain high in carbs and fiber. While it doesn’t have as much hearty nutrition as sunflower or safflower seed, some birds will feed on milo including jays, quail, turkeys, grackles, starlings, and doves.
Canary Grass Seed
A less common offering in birdseed mixes, canary grass seed still offers protein, fat, and fiber to hungry birds. While a small amount of canary grass seed may be part of mixes meant for wild birds, larger quantities of this seed should not be offered without mixing it with other, more nutritious seeds.
As expected by its name, canary grass seed is popular with small, seed-loving birds like finches, juncos, and quail, and cowbirds also enjoy this seed.
Checking the Ingredients
No matter which types of seed birders may choose to offer their wild birds, checking the ingredients on the seed mix can help provide nutritional insight. While the ingredient list will name the types of seed included in a mix, even more valuable is the "guaranteed analysis" breakdown. This will show, by percentage, the amount of fiber, protein, and fat in the seed mix.
This information can help birders choose the best birdseed based on wild birds' needs at different times of year. A mix with a higher percentage of protein, for example, is ideal when birds are molting and need extra protein to grow strong, healthy feathers, as well as when baby birds are maturing and developing. A high fat blend is usually preferred by birds year-round but is especially beneficial during migration when birds need more energy for their travels, or in winter when extra calories can help birds keep warm.
Offering the Best Birdseed
With so many different types of birdseed offering varied nutrition for wild birds, it can be confusing to know which seed is best. By understanding the nutritional values of different seeds, birders can buy a bird food mix that will nourish and attract the backyard birds they want to see. A varied diet can offer the best nutrition and watching which seeds birds prefer can help birders adjust their offerings to give birds the healthiest and most popular diet of all.
Be Your Own Birder - Black Oil Sunflower Seed http://www.beyourownbirder.com/2021/03/09/the-most-versatile-birdseed/
Bird Watching HQ - Safflower Seed https://birdwatchinghq.com/safflower-seed/
Bird Watching Buzz - Millet https://birdwatchingbuzz.com/is-millet-good-for-birds-learn-the-nutrient-content-more/
Bird Watching Bliss - Nyjer Seed https://pestell.com/product/nyjer-seed/
Bird Feeder Hub - Many Seeds https://birdfeederhub.com/backyard-bird-seed-guide/