AVOID These 5 “Filler” Foods Found in Birdseed Mixes!
Unfortunately, not all bird seeds are created equal!
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.
- Check out the TWO live bird cams in my backyard! (And see the foods I’m currently feeding)
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:
Wagner’s Farmer’s Delight – Ingredients: 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)
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.
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! 🙂
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:
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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).
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
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.
I saw a post the other day saying that peanut butter would kill small birds and not to use it. Is this true?
Those are two birds that love milo and millet, a lot of songbirds just kick that stuff out of the feeder. Take care.
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.
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.
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.
If you are talking about Black Oiled sunflower seeds …. birds love them!
What about black oil seed?
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. 😂
Latest research shows birds can sense odors. https://www.audubon.org/magazine/january-february-2014/birds-can-smell-and-one-scientist#:~:text=Birds%20don't%20have%20noses,use%20to%20detect%20odor%20particles.
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.
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.