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Study: Common seeds that attract birds best

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at a backyard feeder in Nashville, Tennessee, April 27, 2014. Photo by Benni Mitchell.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at a backyard feeder in Nashville, Tennessee, April 27, 2014. Photo by Benni Mitchell.

Researchers who provided citizen-scientists in 38 states and three Canadian provinces with feeders and 10 types of seed commonly included in mixes have concluded that black-oil sunflower, medium sunflower chips, and white proso millet attract birds best.

The investigators, David J. Horn, Stacey M. Johansen, and Travis E. Wilcoxen of Millikin University, published their findings recently in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

Birds that normally feed on the ground, and larger bodied birds, were most abundant at platform and hopper feeders, say the investigators.

Small-bodied birds — American Goldfinch, House Finch, House Sparrow, Pine Siskin, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch — were most abundant at either tube or tube and platform feeders.

Black-capped Chickadee, Chipping Sparrow, Common Redpoll, Purple Finch, and Song Sparrow were most abundant at hopper or tube and hopper feeders.

“We found that the pairing of a specific bird seed and feeder plays a significant role for all of the species that we examined,” write the researchers. “However, food was the more important factor influencing visits to bird feeders, and if the food is not attractive to birds, the food will not be used regardless of the feeder type in which it is presented.”


Here are the seeds studied and the birds that prefer them:

Nyjer and sunflower chips (also known as hulled sunflower or sunflower hearts): smaller finches, such as American Goldfinch, Common Redpoll, and Pine Siskin.

Black-oil sunflower: larger finches, and birds that eat seeds away from feeders, such as Black-capped Chickadee, Carolina Chickadee, Cassin’s Finch, House Finch, Northern Cardinal, Purple Finch, and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

White proso millet: sparrows and birds that often feed on the ground, such as American Tree Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Chipping Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, House Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Red-winged Blackbird, and Song Sparrow.

Unsalted peanuts (out of the shell and split in half): Blue Jay, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch. (The titmouse and nuthatch also liked black-oil sunflower.)


Sunflower chips: Downy Woodpecker.

Only one species, Common Grackle, made its greatest number of visits at cracked corn. No birds preferred safflower or red milo (sorghum).

The number of visits to white proso millet was large, report Horn and his colleagues, but two undesirable species were most abundant. “Thus, in areas containing species that may be adversely affected by the presence of Brown-headed Cowbird and House Sparrow, use of white proso millet should be reduced.”

Read the abstract

David J. Horn, Stacey M. Johansen, and Travis E. Wilcoxen, 2014, Seed and Feeder Use by Birds in the United States and Canada, Wildlife Society Bulletin, Volume 38, Issue 1, pages 18–25. Abstract.

A version of this article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.



Originally Published

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