AVOID These 5 “Filler” Foods Found in Birdseed Mixes!

Unfortunately, not all bird seeds are created equal!

filler birdseeds to avoid in mixes and blends

In fact, many bird food manufacturers seem to be actively trying to trick us. Here’s what they do:

So to get the price lower, these companies fill their bags of birdseed with the least expensive food they can find. But here’s the problem:

Most birds DO NOT eat these cheap “filler” seeds.

If you buy birdseed mixes with the below ingredients, much of the food will be wasted. I know this sounds crazy, and honestly, I think it’s pretty evil. But unfortunately, some manufacturers seem to care very little if the seed mixes they sell actually attract birds.

In addition, these companies will put beautiful pictures of Northern Cardinals or Blue Jays on the bag. But in reality, these birds will barely eat ANYTHING that’s inside. Seriously, it seems like their goal is to TRICK people into buying their seed mix.

For example, check out this birdseed blend:

bad and awful bird seed

Wagner’s Farmer’s DelightIngredients: Milo, Cracked Corn, White Millet, Black-oil Sunflower Seeds

Maybe if everyone stopped buying bird food that contained the following poor ingredients, then they would disappear from the shelves, and we would be left with only quality products. In addition, think of how much food and agricultural resources get wasted.

Here are FIVE types of bird food to avoid!

  • *BONUS: Make sure to scroll to the bottom to also see TWO foods you should only feed in moderation.

#1. Milo (aka Sorghum)

worst birdseed for mixes

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

The problem is that most birds don’t eat milo!

Almost every species that visits will kick it off the feeder to the ground, where it will sit until it rots and decomposes.

Only a few birds ACTUALLY eat milo:

  • Ground-feeding birds, like turkeys, quail, pheasants, and doves.
  • European Starlings and House Sparrows, which are both invasive species to North America. Most people want FEWER of these two birds at their feeding station, so it’s not a great idea to buy food that caters explicitly to both of them! 

Seriously, you should avoid milo at all costs! Even if the bag of birdseed is cheap, you are wasting your money because the milo is not going to be eaten.

The only exception with milo is if you live in the southwest United States. In this area, a few birds actually enjoy eating milo, such as Curve-billed Thrashers and Stellar’s Jays.


#2. Canary Seed

Canary Grass 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.

In addition, canary seeds are more expensive by weight than cracked corn or even white proso millet, so it just seems like an expensive alternative that should be eliminated.

What drives me crazy about canary seed is that it’s often included in blends for finches and goldfinches. But the BEST foods to attract these birds are typically hulled sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds, NOT canary seeds. My guess is that canary seed is added as a marketing tactic since many people think that bright and beautiful goldfinches resemble canaries. 


#3. Oats

There is really no reason for oats to be offered at your feeding station.

Only a few birds, like European Starlings and grackles, will eat the oats in a birdseed mix. So if you want a lot of both of these birds, go ahead and go crazy with oats! 🙂


#4. Wheat

Birds seem to enjoy eating “gluten-free” because it’s rare for them ever to eat wheat.


#5. Flax Seeds

Personally, I LOVE eating flax seeds. I put this healthy food in my smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal.

But birds do not share the same appreciation for flax. As a result, this food is rarely eaten when included in birdseed mixtures.


*BONUS – Two Foods You Should Only Use in Moderation:

Corn

best bird food types

A little bit of corn, both cracked and whole kernels, is great to feed birds. It’s inexpensive and can attract a wide variety of species.

But since cracked corn is super cheap, some companies try to stuff as much as possible into their birdseed mixes.

And with corn, too much is NOT a good thing.

The problem is that corn spoils quicker than other seeds when exposed to wet weather. And if mold appears, then you are going to need to conduct a thorough cleaning of your bird feeders.

In addition, corn is not eaten as readily as other foods, like peanuts and sunflower seeds. So if too much corn is offered, it can tend to accumulate on the ground or in your feeders, which enhances the probability that the corn will deteriorate and spoil!

Just remember that a little bit of corn is great, but a lot is not!


Millet

Millet is a great food to use for ground-feeding birds. For example, doves and native sparrows, like Dark-eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows, LOVE eating millet. As a result, it’s very common to see millet added as an ingredient in many types of birdseed mixes.

But there are many types of birds that don’t eat millet. Some examples include backyard favorites like cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches, who are just going to toss millet aside to get to the food they enjoy eating.

So millet should not be the primary ingredient in your seed blend. Instead, you want sunflower seeds to lead the way, with just a little bit of millet included.

Lastly, you will run into two types of millet: white and red.

Birds that eat white millet will also eat red millet and vice versa. But if both types are present, white millet is the preferred choice.


You need to start checking the ingredients of bird seed blends before purchasing.

bird seed for backyard feeding station plans

DON’T BUY BIRDSEED WITH MILO AS THE FIRST INGREDIENT!

Just like the food you purchase to eat, it’s vital to check the ingredients of any birdseed mix you buy.

If you want to see a great example of a lousy birdseed blend, then check out this option on Amazon (make sure to click the picture to zoom in on the ingredients). And if the seed blend wasn’t bad enough, cherry-flavored oil was added, which is purely a marketing gimmick because birds can’t smell or taste!

So what are the BEST bird foods to use?

If you want a successful bird feeding station, you need to fill your feeders with sunflower seeds, peanuts, nyjer seeds, safflower seeds, and suet. It’s also great to have a little bit of corn and white millet, but not too much. My advice is to experiment with different foods to see what your local birds prefer at your feeding station.


Have you come across any other “filler” foods?

If so, let us know below what we need to watch out for!

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34 Comments

  1. Thanks for your recent article about the use of filler seed in the bird feed. I have been feeding birds in my yard for many years and have learned about the so called bad fillers from the mess it leaves in my yard. Something to add is the attraction of small unwanted critters (mice) who are attracted to the mess and can get to be somewhat of a chore to clean up. Thanks again and keep those great articles coming, I really enjoy reading them. p.s. i have a pic of a bird i cannot identify if someone can help. thx again

  2. After reading the article about mixed bird seeds, I checked out the ingredients in a few of those mixes and was surprised to see “grain products” as the first ingredient on a couple of them! That’s pretty vague. I wonder what it means.

  3. I use seed that squirrels will not eat; otherwise they knock down feeders and eat everything. I’d rather be able to give birds sunflower seeds…

    1. I bought ground feeders and fill them up with peanuts for the squirrels. They now leave my bird feeders alone. I call the squirrels my little “extortionists.” LOL! 😁

    2. I found the squirrel buster feeders defeat the squirrels and save the seeds.

      I do scatter some for them out of pity though anyway.

      It’s also entertaining to watch them try to defeat the feeders…

      …very clever and gymnastic attempts.

      It’s been a few years, and, so far, the best they can do is hit it and rattle out a seed or two.

      Before the feeders, they’d take 2 lb of seed a day if it was available.

      😀

      1. I have the Brome squirrel buster feeders, and the squirrels figured out how to get around the weight issue just the same. That’s why I started putting out ground dishes filled with peanuts. They don’t bother with the bird feeders anymore now.

        1. I adjusted the weight so only song birds can use it, and the larger birds and squirrels can’t.

          Use a really light setting and the squirrels can’t get through the opening

          🙂

          1. I must have genius squirrels here or something!🤣 I tried setting the weight at its lightest, but they figured out that holding down both the outer cage and the inner cage at the same time (at the feeder openings) prevents closure.

  4. I live in northern California. I have mostly finches, doves, titmouse and sparrows. They will not eat safflower seeds or any suet cakes. Even my occasional scrub jays and acorn woodpeckers won’t eat suet or safflower. I have resorted to buying bulk sunflower chips. No waste at all but $$.

    1. Same here. I only buy medium sunflower chips. None of the birds will eat ANYTHING else….it all ends up on the ground. So even though sunflower chips cost a lot more initially, I end up actually saving money, because it’s not wasted and tossed on the ground.

  5. Birds CAN both smell, and taste!
    Many studies have demonstrated this.
    The idea that they can’t has been falsified thoroughly, down to the numbers of taste buds, organoleptic receptors, and in many cases, which smells and tastes which species are using, for what, etc.

    Just search for avian sense of taste and/or smell, and you’ll get a wealth of new information.

    🙂

  6. Excellent information and loved the photos. I’m relieved that the food I’m offering the birds contain none of that! Along with the starlings, would this method work with redwing black birds, and the dreaded grackles?

  7. Awesome discussion of feeder foods, thanks! Guess I’m on the right track. Also thanks for the cams and the GREAT, very clear bird pix and descriptions. Helped me out a lot.

  8. Questions: Is raw buckwheat okay for birds? I’m vegan and eat it myself. I can’t find “just plain old peanuts” to chop up for them but I have tons of buckwheat!

    Also….I’ve made a vegan suet from REFINED COCONUT OIL ( no coconut scent/flavour) It hardens quickly just like animal fat ; I mix in hemp seed, chopped walnuts, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds….sometimes I mix in organic peanut butter. They always eat it all up but is it safe? The coconut oil, specially.

  9. I can’t find PEANUTS for less than $30 a bag! I remember peanuts (in the shell) being $2.99. I’m not THAT old!!! Haha! What’s going on with peanuts? They used to cost….peanuts!!!!

  10. One person in the apartment building where I live uses very cheap seed. Most of it germinates and I have to pull it. One thing you don’t mention is jimson weed seeds. There were 5 plants I had to cut off and that stuff doesn’t grow in New York State.

  11. I noticed that PenningtonBlack Oil Sunflower Seeds have wood shavings throughput the bag. So the weight is increased, but there is less seeds.. Sunflowers don’t grow on bark, so what is it doing in there? The seed mix also contains Black Oil Sunflower Seed, Vit A & D-3 (don’t birds get enough sunshine?) Potassium Iodine and Vegetable oil! Are these seeds any good? Seeds predominately for Cardinals (which is on the bag)

  12. Thank you so much for this article! I was trying to find out the name of the round orange/brown seed that was being completely ignored by the hooded juncos and song sparrows on my deck! (It’s milo, of course–a seed I’d never heard of.) Based on your info I will be able to order single-seed supplies for my little ground feeders—and encourage the “weeds” that produce the seeds they like. Appreciatively yours!

  13. Interesting article Steve, thanks for sharing.

    Scott, we do enjoy the quail on the property! However even the cheap stuff is now closing in on $20 a bag. Ouch. One upon a time we’d offer different options to the feathered friends but nowadays we stick with BOSS.

    We are paying $29 for 40 pounds in Southern Arizona, curious what it’s costing in other areas of the US.

  14. Thanks for the knowledge I have often wondered about the value of the cheap foods. We only use sunflower and safflower (a small amount of safflower).

  15. From BLOOMS&BIRDS … If you’re buying it specifically for birds, look for natural or organic types with the fewest additives. Try offering crunchy peanut butter for an extra nutty treat. It’s best to avoid low-fat varieties, which may not have as much nutritional value for the birds

  16. Agree. Just wanted to point out that birds do have taste and smell abilities in spite of it long being thought that they didn’t.

  17. I saw a post the other day saying that peanut butter would kill small birds and not to use it. Is this true?

  18. Those are two birds that love milo and millet, a lot of songbirds just kick that stuff out of the feeder. Take care.

  19. Funny thing, we live in the Southwest and the Farmer’s Delight seed mentioned above is a best seller at our local feed store. I often hear the employees promote the cherry flavoring as a big draw to the birds! We’ve tried a bag and have to say the dove and quail do seem to enjoy.

    1. Margaret, yes, dove and quail love “filler” foods! If you want to attract these types of birds then buy as much cheap birdseed as you want.

  20. That’s not filler, in fact, it’s the best seed to have, and a variety of birds will eat it. Also, it’s a great winter food, as it provides a lot of fat in the form of oil.

  21. Well the last terrible bag I had to buy when I couldn’t find my good kind had pieces of sticks. I’m not sure but I don’t think I need sticks in my seed. I have plenty of sticks in my the yard and tree limbs for them to naw on. 😂

    1. Hey Steve. Regardless of their exact ability to sense odors, having cherry flavoring in birdseed is not meant to attract birds, it’s just a marketing ploy by the company.

  22. Good post. I’ve been feeding birds for decades (Eastern U.S.), and while I do have specialized feeders that keep out the bullies, I also have a platform feeder that any birds can go to, so I get Starlings, Mourning Doves, etc. In the past, I’ve tried these cheapo feeds on it and no birds eat any of the milo or millet, including Mourning Doves. It just ends up getting stuck to the feeder, which does have a roof but still gets wet in storms. Better to make your own mix if you want to economize.