What's the best bird seed for my bird feeder?
April 10, 2016 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I just got a large bird feeder and filled it up with a standard bird seed mix, and I'm finding that it's empty by the end of every day. But it seems like most of the seed just winds up on the ground, uneaten. There's a lot of millet and corn down there. Is there a bird seed mix where more of the seed will be eaten, and not just discarded? I live in Los Angeles, if that is helpful.
posted by malhouse to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know what's emptying the feeder? Can you point a camera at it during the day?

I like safflower for feeders: that generally attracts cardinals and similar rather than finches, but it does dissuade squirrels and bigger arsehole birds like grackles that tend to empty out feeder contents onto the ground.
posted by holgate at 7:50 AM on April 10, 2016

I guess the squirrels are rejecting the corn and millet? I'm pretty sure squirrels are eating most of your seed.

Anyway, you can call the good folks at Tree People or even better the rangers at Franklin Canyon Park, to ask them what kind of seed for the birds in your area.

Franklin Canyon has the lovely Sooky Goldman Nature Center with exhibits of all the birds in our area. There's also a link to a PDF species list on their webpage. Phone number is 310-858-7272 Ext. 131

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 7:57 AM on April 10, 2016

We have a feeder with exclusively safflower seed (some finches eat that, too). Squirrels are less interested, but we do get the occasional desperate squirrel. We get good bird action.

We end up with a lot of empty safflower hulls on the ground.
posted by amtho at 8:03 AM on April 10, 2016

We use sunflower hearts. No shells to litter the ground under the feeder, and bluebirds love them. They are more expensive though.
posted by COD at 8:22 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Black oil sunflower seed is a good option for a wide variety of birds.
posted by ReluctantViking at 8:24 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

In LA, I doubt squirrels are a problem. I am just south of you and found the same thing. I buy Lyric no waste mix to avoid the shells all over the ground (I get it at OSH). It has no millet. And I find the Mourning Doves are the worst about kicking the food out of the feeders (and they're bullies!). They are ground feeders and prefer to eat from there rather than the feeder itself.

It takes the birds about a week to empty the feeder, then I wait up to a week for them to clean up the ground underneath before I refill the feeder.
posted by cecic at 8:25 AM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Mrs mule and I kept a feeder for years. We hung the feeders in a metal arch about seven feet high and maybe six feet wide, two feet deep. Birds are messy, but you can do certain things to organize the mess into a sort of reasonable ecology.

We used both bird-house feeders and feeder socks. Our go-to seed stock were sunflower seeds, millet, and finch socks filled with black thistle seeds. We had a large population of American (and other) finches--tweety birds, you know. We hung five finch socks, and refilled them about twice a week. The payback was watching the finches bring their young in every year for their first ever dining out experiences. Finch society is complex but orderly; they are enthusiastic squabblers, but in their own way they are orderly enough. Watching their interaction brought us many joyful mornings. After a while the differences among the young and mature voices are easy to discern. The new kid would sit on the feeder and whistle for his dad or mom to bring him food, but the parent usually would whistle from the sock and encourage the youngster. After a while junior would hop down to the sock and a new world began for him. Older finches would sometimes hop around to the new kid and peck his toes, I believe, just to listen to him chirp and watch him flutter.

Other birds went for the sunflower seeds--especially the jays. Squads of Juncos and pairs of grosbeaks combed the litter under the feeder. Nuthatches and such came and went, mostly for the thistles, but it was the large population of finches that graced our view out the dining room window every morning. We got a couple of bird books, and we learned to identify our visitors, though sometimes we had to use a set of binoculars to see the subtle differences among some of the finches.

We bought our seeds in 30 pound bags, in case you are interested. Had we displayed a smaller feeder I guess we would have attracted fewer birds at any one sitting, but the local populations would raid the feeder at a rate that depended on how many birds would fit at a sitting.

Certain feeds attract certain birds. Sunflower, thistle and millet seemed to keep our yard busy enough. I should mention that now and then a falcon would streak down out of nowhere and leave a little cloud of feathers floating around a space where a finch used to be.

Under the feeder: finches are maybe the most litter prone of the tweety birds. As time passed the litter of bird guano, seeds, seed hull and such began to generate the most useful compost I've ever seen. If you put your hand into it you could feel the heat. The compost also attracted and supported a dense colony of earthworms--these in turn attracted robins and their kin. Every two years I would scoop out ten gallons or so of this compost to use elsewhere around the yard. Also in the compost a colony of sunflowers began to sprout. I would thin them at first, leaving a few plants to mature. When the flower was mature, birds would feed directly from the source until it was emptied. Volunteer sunflower sprouts made buying more sunflower seeds unnecessary--we continued to get sunflowers for two or three seasons after we stopped filling that feeder. Only rarely would the thistle or millet seeds produce a plant. I believe they were treated somehow to keep them from sprouting.

This went on for about six years. Then the neighborhood began to suffer from the lady down the road's habit of hoarding cats. We helped capture some of them, nuetered and spayed the captives, then turned them loose to make their living along the creek nearby. The creek supported them well enough, but feral cats generally have a fairly short life span around here. A by product of all this was the small herd (six) that decided to live with us. Four of them turned into laprats, and the other two more or less hung around our enclosed backyard--we supplied them with vet care, food and water. This relates to the bird feeder. The bird feeder, as you can imagine, became a cat feeder, which seemed too brutal for Mrs mule and me to deal with at our morning coffee, so we stopped putting up feeder socks. Now we have a honeysuckle bush growing over feeder arch, and the finches stay pretty much in the large oak trees just off our property line.

If neighborhood cats are an issue, feeders hanging on a monopole set about eight or ten feet off the ground will work just fine.
posted by mule98J at 9:14 AM on April 10, 2016 [8 favorites]

Costco sells huge bags of high-quality seed (lots of sunflowers, not as much filler) for super cheap.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:58 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm in LA - when I hung nyger seed in socks, I got only house finches. They are very nice, but as mule98j mentions, the shells/poop create a substantial cleaning up chore if your feeders are not over earth or planters.

When the nyger seed was also put in plate feeders, doves came too. My cats loooooved to watch the doves. Apparently size DOES matter to a cat! Once a gold finch showed up, briefly. But that's it for variety. I put out sunflower seeds one year but the squirrels (yes, there are squirrels here) ate them all.

When I got regular bird seed with millet, I got a few sparrows but mostly squirrels.

My mom used to put out mealy worms for her mockingbird, they like those.
posted by bluesky78987 at 9:59 AM on April 10, 2016

Don't get the mixes with the millet in them ... most of that just goes to waste.

If you're choosing just one kind of seed, black oil sunflower is the best. Costco's bird seed is actually really good -- I think it's mostly black out sunflower and safflower. I notice that the birds will eat the sunflower first.
posted by Ostara at 10:04 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

We use the Wild Birds Unlimited no millet, no corn Deluxe Blend in SLO County. We end up with less seed on the ground than with other blends but there is still seed kicked out of the flat tray feeders. We don't use hanging feeders anymore due to the amount of feed scattered on the ground. Both the California Tohee and White Crowned Sparrows feed on the ground and clean up quite a bit of the seed on the ground. Mourning Doves have been completely displaced by Eurasian Collared Doves in our area. To keep them from dominating the feeders I've enclosed the feeders in wire fence material with 2X3 inch openings. Finches, sparrows and even Scrub Jays go through the fencing without hesitation. Counting Finch feeder sacks, humming bird feeders, flat tray feeders and one Oriole feeder we have 7 stations out, plus a half dozen bird baths. About half of our landscape vegetation is CA natives to provide habitat for the birds and other native creatures.

If you plant Cosmos and leave the seed heads in place after the flowers dry the Goldfinches will feed on them.
posted by X4ster at 10:17 AM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

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