All About Bird Seed
Providing the right bird seed is a lot like using native plants in your yard. A great garden provides for our native butterflies, pollinator bees and the local wildlife which includes the birds. When we offer bird food we want to offer the native seed to our area. We call this regionally formulated bird seed.
Seed quality can vary greatly from store to store. It can be the same type of seed in each store but the condition of the seed can be very different. What do we mean by condition and quality? The quality of the bird seed from a birds perspective is twofold; Is the seed something I eat? Is the seed fresh and nutritious?
Is the seed something I eat? In general it must be a seed native to the area. When seed eating songbirds birds are young and just fledged from the nest the parents will show them where to find food. The parents will take them to the native plants that produce the native seed they need to survive and bring them to bird feeders with the best quality bird seed.
Is the seed fresh and nutritious? Just like us, birds do not like stale food. Seed can go stale over time and if stored in too warm of an environment. The oil content of the seed will dissipate thus reducing the fats and proteins. Birds can easily judge this by the colour of the shell. Birds see in the ultraviolet light spectrum and studies have shown that birds can judge the quality of Black-oil sunflower by how intensely the shell glows blue, the duller the blue the older and less nutritious.
Birds are very picky eaters and only get about 30% of their nutritional needs from provided food (bird feeders) in the toughest of times. Birds are not desperate for the food we offer and foraging for food whether it is flying to a bird feeder, scratching under a shrub or looking for insect larvae under tree bark takes time, energy and can be risky. Provided food can definitely help birds but if the provided food is not high quality - the right seed and nutritious seed the bird will not waste it's energy, time and risk danger.
Some stores have the same bags of bird seed sitting in their store over a long period of time going stale, do not have the proper storage process thru their supply chain, are purchasing poor quality bird seed (dirty, dusty, full of sticks and debris) and are not selling the right seed thus providing a poor quality bird seed that the birds will avoid. These bags of seed can often be inexpensive but the birds will not become regular visitors to the yard and the bag has become wasted money.
Wild Birds Unlimited, our seed is sold within fourteen days, we manage our supply chain to ensure proper storage, we purchase only the best quality bird seed (clean, no dirt, dust, sticks or debris) we sell only the bird seed eastern songbirds will eat. Our bags can be more expensive but the birds will visit your yard regularly, you will not have wasted your money and every day the birds will bring a smile to your face!
Ontario is in the Eastern Region. We are part of the Eastern region which in bird terms represents a geographic area in Canada that starts at the east of the Great Plains (the Canadian Shield) and extends to the mountainous eastern regions the Atlantic Coast and in the North extends up to James Bay and in the United Sates it extends from the Appalachians to the East Coast and south to the Everglades.
Bird Seed for Eastern Songbirds
Black Oil Sunflower is the basic bird seed for all eastern region birds. All eastern birds will eat this seed. If you only offer one type of bird seed this is the one to pick. The shell is relatively soft and splits open very easily. Black oil sunflower is grown to produce sunflower oil. This seed is a favourite of Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees and House Finch.
Striped Sunflower has a much stronger shell and does not open as easily. Many smaller birds: Goldfinch, House Finch, Dark-eyed Junco's etc will not eat this seed. Larger birds and birds with larger bills will eat striped sunflower. Some of the birds that will eat this seed include: Northern Cardinal, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmouse, Evening Grosbeak etc. Striped Sunflower is grown for the bakery industry and is used as a snack for people.
Hulled Sunflower is sunflower seed without the shell. Just like black-oil sunflower all eastern songbirds will eat hulled sunflower seed. In general birds do not have a preference for black-oil sunflower in or out of the shell. Although the American Goldfinch does seem to prefer hulled sunflower vs in-shell and will forgo nyjer seed at times for the sunflower chip. On of the big advantages is the lack of mess. The birds will eat the seed but will the shells behind. The clean aspect of hulled sunflower is often the reason many homeowners will offer hulled sunflower. There are no shells to rake up off the lawn, remove from the garden or sweep off the patio. One might think of just letting the seed shells decompose naturally, which they will but this can cause a problem. Seed shells are acidic and as they decompose the shells alter the pH of the soil to a more acidic (lower) pH. Grass lawns for example prefer a neutral soil and the majority of native plants do best in neutral soil to slightly acidic. People will talk about the dead lawn below their bird feeders, it is a result of using seed with shells.
White Proso Millet is a native seed preferred by most birds that specialize in ground feeding. Some people will refer to it as a filler, but this is not correct. Ground feeding specialists tend to have a diet higher in carbohydrates than protein and Millet when it comes to nutrition is a carbohydrate source. Depending on how the food is offered millet will often be knocked to the ground by the birds that prefer sunflower because these birds have a diet based on proteins. Songbirds in our area that prefer millet are: Slate-coloured Juncos, Mourning Doves, Rock Pigeons, Eastern Towhee, Brown-headed Cowbird and many of our native sparrows - Chipping, White-throated and White-crowned. White millet is the most common Proso Millet but Red Proso Millet is used at times. Proso Millet does have a shell but can be found in seed blends without the shell. Millet has become now become a popular health food.
Corn is not currently used extensively in bird feeding. Around 2012 corn became a much sought after commodity to be used in the production of bio-fuel and corn based sustainable products. At this time the cost of corn became too expensive to be used a lot in bird feeding. Prior to 2012 corn was often the main ingredient in a cheap bag of bird seed and was considered a filler. This was an incorrect labelling of corn because it is a native seed and crop to Eastern North America. The issue was the amount of corn used in cheap seed blends. Corn will go mouldy quickly, especially if it gets damp and the mould is deadly to birds and wildlife. Corn, like millet is a carb based seed, when large quantities were put in bird feeders the birds would knock it to the ground and if there were not enough ground feeding birds in your yard it would pile up, get damp and get mouldy. Corn is also a favourite of Rock Pigeons which come in large flocks and could make a mess in the backyard. Corn in small controlled carefully maintained amounts can be a successful ground feeding food. Corn can be found in whole kernels, cut corn or crushed corn. Avoid crushed corn, the whole kernel is crushed under pressure which produces a lot of dust. Cut corn is a better choice, steel blades are used to cut the corn into pieces producing a cleaner product. Songbirds in our area that will eat corn are: Slate-coloured Juncos, Mourning Doves, Rock Pigeons, Eastern Towhee, Brown-headed Cowbird and many of our native sparrows - Chipping, White-throated and White-crowned,.
The following three types of bird seed break the rule of offering native eastern seed to songbirds. These non-native seeds have proven to be accepted by eastern songbirds and fill a needed niche. Unlike other non-native seeds that are not preferred by any eastern songbird.
Safflower is a small, white conical seed, similar to black-oil sunflower seed, that is high in protein and fat. Safflower was introduced to bird feeding in the late 1970's early 1980's. Safflower is used when you do not want squirrels, European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds or the Common Grackle to crowd your feeder and chase away the birds you want to see. Squirrels do not like the taste and bill of the starlings and blackbirds cannot crack open the shell due to its odd shape. Safflower has proven to become a favourite of the Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove and House Finch with a shorter timeframe but other species such as Black-capped Chickadees, Red and White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and even Blue Jays will eventually eat safflower. This safflower seed is grown primarily to be crushed for baking oil.
NutraSaff Safflower or Golden Safflower is just like the traditional white safflower but is has some nutritional improvements and is a little easier for songbirds to eat. NutraSaff has a higher percentage of fat and proteins compared to white safflower. The shell is the same conical shape but a little thinner which makes it easier for birds to open. NutraSaff will help keep squirrels, European Starlings, Red-winged Blackbirds or the Common Grackle away from your feeders. Many of your favourite birds will try, eat and make NutraSaff a regular part of their diet. NutraSaff is more readily accepted by our local birds than traditional safflower and over time, you'll end up with a dining spot for all kinds of backyard birds, including Northern Cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, finches, mourning doves and more. For more details go to to our NutraSaff webpage.
Safflower and NutrSaff are safe nutritious seeds for birds and wildlife. If squirrels are the problem at your feeders we strongly recommend the use of one of these two seed options vs hot pepper (capsaicin) treated product. Birds in the northern eastern region do not naturally eat capsaicin based foods because the source, chili peppers, do not grow here naturally. Unlike safflower which is a healthy alternative for birds there is no health benefit for birds eating capsaicin treated product.
Nyjer seed is another of the non-native seeds that has found a use in bird feeding in North America. Nyjer was introduced to North America in the 17th century. The primary use of Nyjer seed is to attract the American Goldfinch. Due to its small size special nyjer bird feeders are used. The seed ports are very small which keeps the nyjer from falling out of the feeder and the goldfinch beak is very pointed and thin allowing the goldfinch to easily access the seed. Over the last few years nyjer has not been as successful at attracting goldfinch and many people are finding better goldfinch success with sunflower chip. One theory for the sudden drop off of nyjers popularity is based on where nyjer comes from and the rules of importing nyjer into North America. Nyjer seed is not grown in North America, it is a seed crop that requires a long hot growing season. The main source of Nyjer seed to North America is India and the secondary source is Ethiopia although the crop originated in Nigeria. To ensure no non-native insects or seed arrive with nyjer it is heat sterilized to kill any invasive entity. The theory is the current sterilization methods may be degrading the nutritional value of the seed and the birds now choosing the more nutritious sunflower chip. Many people refer to Nyjer as thistle and often assume it is the seed from our native North American thistle plant, Common Thistle, Cirsium flodmanii but the latin name for nyjer is Guizotia abyssinica. This is not same plant or even the same family of plant as the Common Thistle which is part of the Aster (Asteraceae) family. Although a very small seed nyjer packs a lot of nutrition, in India nyjer seed is crushed for its oil. Birds that are known to eat nyjer are: American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin, Common Redpolls, House Finch, House Sparrows and Mourning Doves.
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