8 Types Of Bird Foods & Which Birds They Will Attract


Setting up bird feeders and bird nests are the easiest ways to attract birds to your yard. Seeds, fruits, and mealworms are the most common food types, but there are a few more that deserve a mention.

Let’s dive in and see what food options are available to you, how to serve them, and which bird species can you attract with these types of bird foods.

1. Seeds

The most common types of seeds used in bird feeders are black sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, millet seeds, milo seeds, nyjer seeds, and safflower seeds.

Black Sunflower Seeds

Black sunflower seeds are without a doubt the most popular type of seeds amongst birds. Almost all seed-eating birds eat them, so if you put them in your bird feeder, you can attract anything from the common goldfinch, to the pine grosbeak or the tufted titmouse.

This, of course, depends on your location.

There are also hulled sunflower seeds which only offer the seed to the birds. This makes eating easier for them as they don’t have to crack the hull open to get the seed.

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Sunflower seeds are highly caloric with 584 calories per 3.5 ounces. The high caloric count makes it a great winter food.

Millet Seeds

Millet seeds come from pearl and proso millet, which are types of grasses. It’s less caloric than sunflowers with 378 calories per 3.5 ounces of seed.

Blue jays, grackles, starlings, and the purple finch are a few of the more common species that frequent bird feeders filled with millet seed.

Many birds that forage for food on the ground love millets, so you don’t need to use a bird feeder if you don’t want to.

Milo Seeds

Milo seed, which you might also find under the name ‘sorghum seed’, is another type of seed coming from grasses. 

It’s popular with the red-winged blackbird, Steller’s jay, and the fox sparrow, but it’s not as popular as sunflower and millet seeds.

It offers 329 calories per 3.5 ounces.

Nyjer Seeds

Nyjer seed, also known as niger seed, noog, and inga seed, is a very oily seed (up to 40% of the seed is oil) that comes from an African herb.

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It yields 480 calories per 3.5 ounces of seed, making it highly caloric. This makes it very popular among a few species, such as the pine siskin, the hoary redpoll, the purple finch, and the boreal chickadee.

Safflower Seeds

Finally, we have safflower seeds, coming from a herb found in a few places in North America, Asia, and Africa. With 340 calories per 3.5 ounces, it’s consumed by blue jays, several woodpecker species, and the northern flicker.

The hard shell, which is too hard for some birds to break, is the reason it’s not more popular among birds.

2. Corn

Cracked corn is a viable food option and it can be eaten by most bird species, but there are a few things to be careful about.

It’s a low-calorie food with only 86 calories per 3.5 ounces, so you usually have to buy it in larger quantities, and storing can be an issue. Storing cracked corn in plastic bags or allowing it to get wet will lead to the development of toxins called aflatoxins.

These toxins are developed by mold, and they can be lethal to small birds (even if ingested in small quantities).

If your corn-filled bird feeder gets wet (be it rain or snow), you have to throw that corn away as it will quickly develop mold and aflatoxins.

The second issue with corn is that it’s an attractant for many species you don’t want in your yard, such as raccoons, deer, and geese.

So, if you’re buying corn, only offer it in small quantities and keep it stored in metal, waterproof containers.

3. Fruit

Not all birds eat fruit, and some of the most beautiful species you can attract with fruit are the eastern bluebird, the bohemian waxwing, the Baltimore oriole, the pine grosbeak, and Woodhouse’s scrub-jay.

Types of fruit that you can always put out without risk of poisoning are currants, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, and oranges.

It would be helpful if you cut the apples into smaller pieces and if you peeled the orange. Alternatively, you can just cut the oranges in half and leave them on a platform feeder, as the birds will pick out what they like.

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The most important thing to keep in mind when giving fruit to birds is the ripeness – eating unripe fruit can make a bird sick.

Pesticides are also dangerous (although not all of them, and not in small quantities), so it’d be best to buy organic, non-sprayed fruits!

4. Mealworms

Mealworms are the most common insect food for birds. They have a higher protein yield than seeds and fruits, and they’re popular with omnivorous and carnivorous small birds.

This includes American robins, all woodpeckers, different wren species, different jay species, and various chickadees.

You can use both live and dry mealworms to attract birds, just make sure not to add live mealworms to platform feeders as they’ll fall off.

Know that starlings and sparrows are particularly attracted to mealworms, and they can clear out a whole platform in just a few minutes.

Because of this, mealworms might be ineffective in attracting other species if there are many sparrows and starlings in your area.

5. Oats

Oats are a type of grain and they’re not beloved by all birds, but they can attract California quail, brown-headed cowbirds, starlings, red-winged blackbirds, and doves.

With 389 calories per 3.5 ounces (may vary depending on the brand), oats are a high-caloric food, available at literally every store. The only important thing to remember is not to cook them – unlike humans and other mammals, birds can’t easily swallow soft oats.

You can also add it to suet. Speaking of which…

6. Suet

Suet cakes are beloved by almost all bird species and they’re great food for the bird feeder. Because they’re a combination of raw fat and any of the foods mentioned above, these cakes are extremely caloric.

3.5 ounces of suet, without accounting for the seeds or the oats you’ll add, yields about 850 calories. This makes suet cakes the most caloric food you can offer to birds!

It’d be best to buy the suet and put it in the bird feeder or to make your own suet. Buying suet in plastic net bags and hanging it on a branch is the easiest way of feeding birds with suet, but they might eat the plastic and die.

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Another important thing to keep in mind is to only feed them suet during the winter! Suet can go bad very quickly if the temperature’s above 0°F.

7. Sugar Water

Mixing sugar with water and serving it through a nectar feeder is a great way to attract various hummingbird species, Baltimore orioles, and the yellow-rumped warbler.

Warblers don’t like strong solutions – 1:6 (sugar to boiling water) is enough for them, while hummingbirds will gladly drink a 1:4 solution.

Don’t add any food coloring to the solution – although natural nectars are often colored, this is unnecessary. Also, let the water cool down before you offer it to birds.

Make sure to clean the feeder before you refill it because the mixture will stick to the walls of the feeder.

8. Peanuts And Peanut Butter

The final food you can attract birds with is peanut butter, but only when it’s cold outside. Since peanut butter is so sticky, it can stick to the top of a bird’s mouth and hurt them.

This can’t happen as easily during the winter as the peanut butter will get stiff and birds will have to break off tiny pieces.

When it comes to peanuts, you can offer both shelled and cleaned peanuts to birds – they won’t have a problem breaking them open.

Almost all birds eat peanuts, so you may attract anything from the black-crested titmouse to the pinyon jay, depending on your location.

Get Our FREE Bird Feeder Cheat Sheet
Want more birds in your backyard? Get simple tips on attracting feathered friends and maximizing your bird feeding setup. Our free cheat sheet has got you covered!
Download The FREE Cheat Sheet

James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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