Bird Seed 101: The 10 Best Types For Wild Birds

Not all types of bird food is created equal.

When you go to the store and see all the different bags of food, it’s easy to become a bit overwhelmed and wonder what are the best seeds and mixes to offer your backyard birds.

Whether you just started feeding birds or you’re frustrated at the amount of food wasted at your feeders, I think this article will help.

By reading today, you can expect to learn the following things:

  • Nutritional content for each recommended food and what birds it will attract.

I get asked periodically about which combinations of foods I use at my bird feeding station.

Unfortunately, I can’t give a consistent answer! It depends on the season, which birds I have been observing lately, and my own experimentation. The best advice that I can give you is to keep rotating different foods and bird seed into your various feeders and then sit back and take notes of what is working best.

Check out my LIVE bird feeder cam below to see my current set up!

YouTube video

10 Best Types of Birdseed and Food:

#1. Sunflower

If you could only offer one type of food at your feeders, then you would want to pick sunflower seed! Not only do dozens of bird species love eating sunflower, but it’s also easy to find and relatively inexpensive.

Believe it or not, there are three varieties of sunflower seeds available for feeding birds, and each type has different advantages and uses.

A. Black-oil Sunflower

types of bird seed - black-oil sunflower

View Price - Amazon | View Price - Chewy

Oil sunflower is the most popular type of seed in the shell and is devoured by almost all birds. I find it interesting that this variety of sunflower is not the kind that humans consume. It was developed to harvest for its oil content, but then it was discovered how much birds love the stuff!

Black-oil sunflower has a higher oil content and is less expensive when compared to striped sunflower below (B). Black-oil shells are also thinner and smaller, so they are easier to crack open and make less of a mess than striped sunflower.

*Nutrition Information: 40% fat, 16% protein, 20% carbohydrates

Birds that are attracted to black-oil sunflower seeds: Cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, grosbeaks, finches, nutcrackers, juncos, House Sparrows, blackbirds, doves, & grackles. It would have been easier to make a list of birds that DON’T like black-oil sunflower seeds because there are not many.

B. Striped Sunflower

birdseed types - striped sunflower

View Price - Amazon | View Price - Chewy

Striped sunflower is larger than black-oil and is the same type of sunflower seed that humans consume, which makes this seed more expensive in comparison.

When it comes to your backyard birds, striped sunflower is not going to be as popular as black-oil sunflower. One reason for this is striped sunflower has a thicker and stronger shell than black-oil, which makes it tougher to crack open to get to the seed. Because of this fact, I like to use striped sunflower seeds in my backyard when I am trying to discriminate against certain birds.

For example, House Sparrows can be incredibly numerous at bird feeders, but they are unable to open striped sunflower seeds! If you dedicate a feeder to striped sunflower, then the cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, and other birds that can open the hard shell have a more peaceful place to eat. It’s also great to add to a general bird seed mix.

*Nutritional Info: 26% fat, 15% protein, 18% carbohydrates

Birds that are attracted to striped sunflower seeds: Cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, grackles, nutcrackers.

C. Hulled Sunflower

Hulled sunflower seed - best birdseed types

View Price - Amazon | View Price - Chewy

Hulled sunflower refers to sunflower seed that has already had the shell removed. Other common names include sunflower chips or kernels.

Since they are easier to eat than seeds still in their shells, hulled sunflower is insanely popular at feeders! Seriously, almost every type of bird that isn’t a bird of prey will eat it. My feeders that contain hulled sunflower seeds have to be refilled just about every single day.

Because the shell has already been removed, hulled sunflower is more expensive by weight than sunflower still in the husk. But you have to take into account that when you buy black-oil or striped sunflower, the shells won’t be eaten, so you are paying for this waste.

Hulled sunflower also is popular because it doesn’t make a mess. There are no shells left to clean up!

Birds that hulled sunflower attracts: Cardinals, jays, grosbreaks, some wrens, goldfinches, finches, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, juncos, sparrows, towhees, blackbirds, doves, and grackles, among others.

#2. Safflower

safflower - best bird food

View Price - Amazon | View Price - Chewy

Safflower seeds are a bit smaller than black-oil sunflower seeds and have a tough shell for such a little seed. Many people call safflower a “miracle seed” because some of the most annoying pests at your feeders don’t particularly enjoy it.

For example, squirrels and blackbirds are probably the biggest problems that most people encounter feeding birds. Would you believe me if I told you that squirrels and blackbirds (including grackles and starlings) RARELY eat safflower seed?

The good news is that most other backyard birds have no issue eating safflower, including cardinals, chickadees, and finches. I know it sounds too good to be true! Try it and let me know your results. Safflower can also be a great seed to use in your feeders that are not squirrel proof.

*Nutrition content: 38% fat, 16% protein, 34% carbohydrates

Birds that safflower attracts: Cardinals, grosbeaks, finches (House and Purple), titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, and doves.

#3. Nyjer (thistle)

different types of bird seed guide

View Price - Amazon | View Price - Chewy

Goldfinches are one of my favorite birds to observe and attract. I enjoy watching their roller coaster flights across the yard and the way they can cling to feeders in any orientation, even upside down! Because of their tiny beaks, goldfinches can only eat the smallest of seeds, which makes feeding nyjer to goldfinches a perfect fit!

Nyjer seed, also commonly called “thistle,” is a tiny, black seed that grows in Ethiopia or India. Nyjer seed is not actually related to thistle, so you don’t have to worry about it developing into an annoying weed. Before it’s sold, nyjer seed is sterilized by heat so it can’t germinate and grow.

Out of all the types of birdseed, nyjer is one of the most vulnerable to spoiling. If the seed is not fresh, it’s common for birds to ignore it entirely.

To feed nyjer, you are going to want to purchase a feeder that specializes in distributing this tiny seed. For more information on nyjer feeders, check out the article below.

*Nutrition Info: 36% fat, 21% protein, 13% carbohydrates

Birds that nyjer seed attracts: Goldfinches, Purple Finch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, chickadees, and doves.

#4. Peanuts

Peanuts are a great food to provide at your feeding station. Not only do birds love eating them, but they are healthy and provide a significant amount of fat and protein, both of which are important to birds, especially during cold winter months. Make sure to buy roasted, unsalted peanuts, if possible!

*Nutrition Info: 49% fat, 26% protein, 19% carbohydrates

You can offer peanuts two different ways, either in the shell or already out. The main difference is which birds you want to feed because most birds can’t crack open a hard peanut shell!

A. Peanuts in the shell:

whole peanuts in shell for bird food

View Price - Amazon

Only a few types of birds can eat peanuts that are still in the shell. This list includes larger birds such as crows, jays, grackles, magpies, and certain woodpeckers. Titmice and chickadees also enjoy peanuts and will work very hard to get that shell cracked open!

When I use peanuts in the shell in my backyard, I typically use one of two feeders, either my tray feeder or peanut wreath.

Most of the time I throw a scoop of peanuts onto my tray feeder located on the ground. Usually within an hour after setting out peanuts, my local murder of crows arrives trying to fit as many peanuts as possible into their mouths to fly off somewhere else to feast.

YouTube video

If I don’t want to feed crows and want to focus on Blue Jays, then I use my peanut wreath feeder and hang it from my bird pole.

B. Shelled peanuts:

peanut food for birds

View Price - Amazon | View Price - Chewy

As you can see below, the list of birds that will eat shelled peanuts is much, much longer than those that can crack open and eat peanuts in the shell.

Birds that shelled peanuts attract: Cardinals, jays, nutcrackers, nuthatches, grosbreaks, chickadees, titmice, bushtits, starlings, cowbirds, crows, magpies, ravens, and grackles.

Shelled peanuts are used in lots of different types of feeders. They also are commonly diced up and added to general bird seed mixes or suet. I fill a metal mesh feeder with peanuts that only woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, and other birds that can cling can access.

One word of warning; I have found that if shelled peanuts get wet or are not eaten within a few days, they are more susceptible to rotting and molding. At this point, the food needs to be thrown away and the feeder needs to be cleaned before using again.

#5. White Proso Millet

white proso millet birdseed

Millet is a favorite food among ground-feeding birds. It is generally not sold individually but is included in many types of birdseed mixes.

There are a few different types of millet, but the best one is white proso millet, which is a small round seed.

Birds that white proso millet attracts: Juncos, sparrows, towhees, blackbirds, grackles, and doves.

It’s best to offer blends that include white millet in tray or hopper feeders because these feeders allow birds that don’t eat millet to kick it to the ground. If you put millet into a tube feeder, it’s a lot harder for birds that don’t like millet to kick it out, and you will probably end up with a bunch of millet at the bottom of the tube feeder.

*Nutrition Info: 4% fat, 11% protein, 73% carbohydrates

A word of warning: Many birdseed mixes also contain red proso millet, which is red and a bit smaller than white millet. Ground-feeding birds will eat red millet, but it’s not their favorite. If possible, I would try to avoid buying a mix that includes red millet.

#6. Mealworms

mealworms for bluebirds

Because of their high fat and protein content, offering mealworms at your feeding station is a healthy treat for many backyard birds.

Mealworms can be purchased in two different ways:


Using living mealworms is not as gross as it may sound. They are not slimy or kept in the dirt. When you purchase mealworms that are alive, they typically come in a small, plastic container and are kept in your refrigerator, where they go dormant and can survive for a few months!

*Nutrition Info: 22% fat, 18% protein, 2.5% carbohydrates  View $ on Amazon


Buying dried mealworms is less hassle than keeping live mealworms in your fridge! For example, you can buy 5 pounds of them on Amazon for a relatively low cost.

*Nutrition Info: 32% fat, 49% protein, 6.9% carbs  View $ on Amazon

Birds prefer eating live mealworms and may even reject dried mealworms at first. If this happens, you may need to combine both types to train your birds. Personally, it’s much more convenient to keep a big pouch of dried mealworms in my shed than to have living ones in my refrigerator!

Birds that are attracted to mealworms: Bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, wrens, and starlings.

Using mealworms is a popular way to attract bluebirds to your yard since these thrushes primarily eat insects.

#7. Corn

Nutrition Information: 5% fat, 9% protein, 74% carbohydrates

When you purchase corn at the store, you will see it offered in the following two different ways:

A. Whole Kernel Corn:

best bird food types

View $ on Amazon

Whole kernel corn is inexpensive to purchase when compared to other types of birdseed and food. At my local home improvement store, I can buy 50 pounds for around $10!

But not that many birds can eat a whole kernel of corn. It’s going to be limited to larger birds, such as jays, crows, ravens, grackles, and ducks.

I also enjoy feeding the mammals that visit my feeding station, such as squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks, and rabbits. Whole corn is the food that I commonly use on my ground tray to attract these interesting animals.

Here is a recent video of a skunk and raccoon eating together under my feeders!

YouTube video

*Watch My Live Animals Cam HERE*

B. Cracked Corn:

cracked corn - types of birdseed

View Cost - Amazon | View Cost - Chewy

Cracked corn is merely whole-kernel corn that has been chopped up. It is used commonly in birdseed mixes because of its inexpensive price. Many birds are unable to eat whole-kernel corn because it’s too big, but lots of birds like eating cracked corn.

I don’t regularly use cracked corn at my main bird feeding station because I have found that cracked corn is extremely popular among House Sparrows! They absolutely can’t get enough of the stuff, and in general, I try to deter these invasive birds as much as possible from visiting. When I do purchase cracked corn, it’s usually to fill a separate bird feeder away from my primary feeders to draw House Sparrows away.

Birds that are attracted to cracked corn: Jays, juncos, sparrows, towhees, starlings, cowbirds, magpies, ravens, crows, doves, grackles, blackbirds, and quail.

#8. Suet

suet cakes

Pure suet is the hard fat around the kidneys and loins of beef and sheep. It provides an outstanding energy source for wild birds and provides necessary fats, which are especially important in winter.

It’s possible to go to your butcher and ask for pure, raw suet. But as you can imagine, most of us don’t want to do that. Luckily, manufacturers of bird food have made it extremely convenient to feed suet in our backyards. Prepackaged suet blends are extremely popular and are found at a variety of stores and online.

Most suet blends available don’t include just suet, but some variety of nuts, seeds, corn, grains, or fruit. The type of suet blend you select may depend on what birds you are trying to attract.

A wide variety of birds feed on suet, but the most common birds attracted are woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees. Unfortunately, European Starlings also love suet and will gorge themselves until it’s all gone!

You can buy bird suet in 4 common styles:

suet cake

View Today's Price

  • Cakes: The most popular variety. The size of 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 1.5″ fits standard suet feeders. I mostly use the above product since it has a high protein content, which attracts more woodpeckers.
  • Balls: Roughly the size of golf balls that fit in many types of mesh feeders.
  • Nuggets: Typically slightly smaller than marbles. Nuggets also can be put in mesh feeders or on tray feeders.
  • Plugs: Resemble a small log. These fit into suet feeders that are specially made to fit suet plugs. Suet plug feeders are typically vertical and resemble the side of a tree.

#9. Sugar Water (Nectar)

hummingbird and oriole nectar

Setting out a homemade solution of sugar water mimics nectar that birds find in flowers. Luckily, making a nectar solution is easy; just mix 4 parts water with 1 part table sugar.

And why should you dedicate a spot in your backyard for a nectar feeder? The answer is easy; to attract two of the brightest and most colorful birds around!

Hummingbirds and orioles!

Both of these birds commonly visit nectar feeders to feed upon sugar solutions. Nectar complements their natural diet nicely and provides them with energy for their active lifestyles.

And in my opinion, few birds are as exciting to see in your backyard as a tiny hummingbird zooming around or watching a bright orange oriole fly down from the trees.

*Nutrition Info: 0% fat, 0% protein, 20% carbohydrates

  • Hummingbirds and orioles get additional nutrition from other food sources, such as flies, gnats, spiders, aphids, caterpillars, and fruit. Nectar is simply an energy source, so please don’t worry about the lack of nutrients in nectar.

#10. Fruit

types of fruit for birds

Offering fruit at your feeders provides a healthy snack for many birds and is a great way to attract species that don’t regularly visit your backyard.

You can use fresh fruit, dried fruit, or jelly.

Fresh Fruit:

You can try anything laying around your house — bananas, grapes, apples, berries, etc. Oranges work great at attracting orioles! My recommendation is to slice the fruit up in small chunks and set out on a tray feeder in small quantities. During summer, fruit can spoil quickly and attracts yellowjackets and bees! It’s best to use when it’s cooler outside.

Dried Fruit:

Using dried fruit is easier to offer because it’s more convenient to store. Raisins, cranberries, and currants are popular options. Robins, waxwings, bluebirds, and mockingbirds should find your dried fruit attractive!


If you want to attract orioles, then putting out jelly should help. I’d use a small snack feeder and only use a little bit at a time until you know the jelly is being eaten.

The jelly at your grocery store works fine. But did you know there is a jelly made specifically for birds? It’s called BirdBerry Jelly and contains real sugar and fruit juice instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

The types of birdseed you should avoid!

Unfortunately, at almost every large home improvement store, pet store, hardware store, or other places that sell birdseed, you are going to run into a common problem.

Cheap bird seed mixes contain fillers that wild birds won’t eat!

Yes, it’s a sad fact that so much food is wasted, but the way for manufacturers to get the price down of a wild bird seed mix is to include lots of cheap ingredients without regard to whether the seed actually attracts birds.

Here are the most common seeds added to mixes that you should avoid!

Maybe if everyone stopped buying bird food that contained these poor ingredients, then they would disappear from the shelves, and we would be left with only quality products.


worst birdseed for mixes

Milo, also called sorghum, is probably the most common filler ingredient you will find in birdseed mixes. It’s cheap and does a great job of filling up the bag.

The problem is that most birds never or rarely eat milo! Wild birds will just kick it off the feeder to the ground, where it will sit until it rots and decomposes. Only a few ground-feeding birds, like turkeys, quail, pheasants, and doves eat milo along with pest birds like European Starlings and House Sparrows.

Don’t get white millet and milo confused, which I used to do commonly. They are entirely different seeds. White millet is good, milo is bad!


Only a few birds, like starlings and grackles, will eat the oats in a birdseed mix.

Canary seed:

Doesn’t the name tell you everything you need to know? Canary seed is not a great food to use at your feeders; it’s best for pet birds! Only a few types of ground-feeding birds will consume it, along with House Sparrows.

Other fillers you may run across and should be avoided:

Rice, flax, golden millet, red millet, buckwheat, wheat, and rapeseed.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Choosing the types of birdseed for your bird feeding station is an important decision.

You have to balance which types of birds you want to attract with how much money you want to spend. There are no perfect answers or one best combination of bird food to use. It comes down to your personal preferences.

I hope reading through the TEN different types of bird food helped to understand the benefits each one can provide in your backyard. Helping to meet the nutritional needs of birds is not only beneficial to birds but also very rewarding for us to watch them visit all year long!

What are the three types of birdseed that attract the most birds to your backyard?


*Nutrition information from each food source was obtained from the book “The Joy of Bird Feeding,” which was written by Jim Carpenter. I highly recommend the book as a resource for anyone who enjoys watching birds in their backyard.*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I add some chia seeds to my nyjer mix and all the lesser goldfinches in the neighborhood took notice. I get lots of them visiting every day.

  2. Great info for newbies and frustrated birders. I learned most of this over years of trial and error, and noticing no one eat the millet. Here’s a tip, too. If you have squirrels, get hot pepper suet cakes, they don’t touch it. And, after 30yrs of various feeders, I got a squirrel buster and it changed my life:-) After a month or so, the squirrels gave up and I now can put out 100% black sunflower and only birds. Oh, and I did safflower for a number of years until we got two squirrels that apparently decided it wasn’t that bad, and would woof it down like a vacuum cleaner.

  3. I also find sparrows very delightful! Keep the insects away and flutter around magnificently! They also pick up waste seed off the ground!

    1. All depends on what kind of sparrows. House sparrows are a no and are not native. Destructive and killers of bluebirds and other native birds.

  4. Howdy, Before I learned what’s what I purchased a large amount of Black oilers and a “premium” mix from a big box store. I’m elderly and thought I was being smart by stocking up. All wrong! Now, my question is this – what should I do with all this material that the birds ignore? (Could also be hawks.) The store did offer me a refund But too many hoops to jump through.I’m spreading some on the ground and squirrels are picking through it which is OK. Maybe opossums, skunks and raccoons are helping too. Is that it? Any other “easy” ideas would be appreciated. Love this site!

  5. No, not All Sparrows are pests, but the English House Sparrow is. It is not native to North America. I love the little Tree Sparrow & Song Sparrow & White Throated Sparrow, & White Crowned Sparrow etc. They are welcome in my garden but not the bully English House Sparrow. I think that is the usual consensus amongst birders. These sweet Sparrows are delightful to be sure with their sweet songs.

  6. Bluejays love whole unsalted peanuts! I just threw some out by the feeders and put some along the railing on my deck. They went crazy for them!! They looked so proud and happy (like look what I found). It is fun watching them crack them open.

  7. My experience with Canary seed is not the same as yours. I find canary seed attracts many birds throughout the year.. goldfinches, cardinals, common redpolls, dark eyed junco, sparrows. doves.. Canary seed make up the bulk of my feed and are a songbird magnet.

    Great article.

  8. Yes! I had two from babies to adults. They are loving and chipper and fun to watch. Mine were trained to fly to and ride on my finger or shoulder. Just be sure that you’re house is bird-proof so they don’t get injured while flying. Also, if you have birds as pets, there will be regular cleaning in and around the cage, but they are fairly low maintenance. And while they do love your daily interaction, they are independent enough to entertain themselves either with each other or their toys. 🙂

  9. Thank you so much for this great information! I have been feeding the birds and squirrels for a long time and I have plenty of them 😃 I just bought all the things I needed to start making suet blocks but I was wondering what would be best to make for the squirrels?

  10. This was very helpful. I am a new participant in the Feeder Watch project, and counting many different birds is fun.

  11. I love the blue jays and have plenty of them. I serve up a varied buffet of many types of foods but it seems the jays prefer peanuts, shelled or un-shelled, at least in my yard. I hate the starlings and can’t get rid of them but I have learned with the grackles that if you go out a time or two and make a lot of loud noise they take off and do not come back – at least in my experience. They were a problem but I haven’t seen one now in a few months. I also hate the house sparrows – they kill bluebirds, their young and destroy their eggs. I love my bluebirds. I bought all new bird houses with entry slits instead of holes and the sparrows stay away from them so now my babies’ nests are safe. The starlings eat all their worms no matter what I do so I’m spending a fortune on meal worms. Guess if we love the birds we have to take the bad with the good. Good luck attracting those blue jays.

  12. Thank you for the valuable information. I am new to bird feeding and found this information very helpful. My husband and I love watching the birds. Some of them are such little piglets, but we don’t mind. I just keep filling up the feeders. 😊

  13. I have learned so much about birds from your website, thank you for taking the time to do all of this! I just bought a house and wanted to start attracting birds to my backyard, and always just bought the general mix found at stores, and wondered why all I seemed to see was house sparrows. Don’t get me wrong, even though they are an invasive species, I love seeing them!! But I wanted some variety. I started putting out a few different kinds of seed and have seen more variety than I ever have. I’ve seen several cardinals, white crowned sparrows, gray catbirds, house finches, and downy woodpeckers. I live in the middle of the city so I know I won’t get as much variety as some, but I am happy with what I have seen so far. Still no luck with bluebirds, jays, goldfinches, or orioles, but keeping my fingers crossed!!! I realize some see jays as a nuisance, but I think they are pretty and wouldn’t mind having some. I am starting to see the frustration with the grackles and starlings though, they could eat me out of house and home!

  14. Thankyou for the great advice! I just started to care for our winged friends and look forward to many years of cherishing them. I bought a wreath peanut feeder hoping to attract blue Jays but I cant seem to get them to come for dinner… my neighbor has them as regular guests but they wont come our way. Any advice? Oh and should I close the feeders down in early summer? Should I be providing water for them?
    Thanks from small town Ontario.

  15. I agree wholeheartedly. I mean, they’ve been following and living around us for thousands of years, they’re closer to being man’s best friend than they are to being pests. The only reason people began seeing them as such was because house sparrows began to nest on or in the outside of houses and people were peeved that they didn’t have control over the birds.

  16. How dare you call sparrows pests. They are delightful and an asset to any garden, also not as prolific as they used to be. May they shun your garden. I also have several types of squirrel baffle from canopies to cages and I have even found the squirrels inside of them. Any self respecting squirrel will find a way, They never ever give up.

    1. Jane, I can only pray they shun my garden. 🙂 Do you live in Europe? I probably should give a disclaimer that I live in the USA and they are invasive species here that outcompete our native birds, such as Eastern Bluebirds.

  17. If there is a Wild Birds Unlimited in your area, they sell no-mess seeds which are already hulled. As far as bacteria from bird poop goes, you will need to hose off the area below your feeding station and clean your feeders regularly.

  18. Helpful but… my house sparrows read how you’re prejudiced against them and now they are pooping on your article.

  19. I have a ground floor apartment and management wouldn’t be happy with seed shells all over. How do you clean up the mess? Also keep the grounds bacteria free? I have a dog also.

    1. Connie, the best thing you can do is to make sure to buy “NO MESS” bird food. This is food that has already had the shells removed, so it will include sunflower kernels and shelled peanuts mostly. It’s a bit more expensive but you shouldn’t have much cleanup. Hope that helps.

    1. Nia, thanks for the feedback! Yes, it’s eye-opening to look at many bird food mixes once you know more about each individual seed.