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- Bird feeders let you enjoy birding without having to leave your home, but to really bring in a wide variety of feathered visitors, you need to offer the right bird seed.
- We did the research for you and rounded up the favorite foods of several popular backyard birds, as well as our top overall pick – Valley Splendor Black Oil Sunflower Bird Seed – which appeals to a wide range of birds.
You set up a bird bath so feathered visitors have somewhere to splash and drink. You chose a bird feeder and hung it where you can easily admire the lovely songbirds that you hope will visit. Now, you need to choose the right bird food.
Different species of birds have different preferences when it comes to seed. Offer the wrong type, and you might not have many visitors. That’s a frequent problem when you simply fill your feeders with the least expensive “Wild Bird Seed Blend” on the supermarket shelves. Cheap blends generally are heavy on seed that doesn’t appeal to many birds, such as milo and millet.
To make your decision easier, we did the research for you and assembled our guide to the best bird seed for your backyard feeder.
Here is the best bird seed you can buy:
- Best wild bird seed overall: Valley Splendor Black Oil Sunflower
- Best wild bird seed mix: Wagner’s Greatest Variety Mix
- Best no-mess wild bird seed: Lyric Sunflower Kernels
- Best bird seed to attract finches: Wagner’s Nyjer Seed
- Best bird seed to attract cardinals: Kaytee Safflower Seed
- Best bird food to attract bluebirds: Kaytee Mealworms
- Best bird food to attract woodpeckers: Pine Tree Farms Peanut Butter Suet Cake
Updated on 5/22/2019 by Les Shu: Updated prices, links, and formatting.
Keep scrolling to read more about our top picks.
The best overall
- Red River
Just about every popular backyard bird goes crazy for black oil sunflower seeds, and with Valley Splendor’s seeds, you can keep your feeders full at a reasonable price.
Black oil sunflower seeds are smaller than the striped variety favored for human snacking and have thinner shells. That makes them easy for even small birds such as finches to crack open.
Fill your hopper, tube, platform, or hanging feeder with Valley Splendor Black Oil Sunflower, and you’ll soon have crowds of finches, chickadees, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, cardinals, sparrows, and doves visiting your yard.
Valley Splendor offers black oil sunflower seeds in 2-pound, 5-pound, 10-pound, 20-pound, and 40-pound bags, so you can choose the size that best matches your needs.
As with all bird seed, keep the bag stored in a dry, cool, dark spot to maintain freshness, and clean your bird feeders weekly.
Pros: Appeals to a very large variety of birds, reasonable price, works with different types of feeders
Cons: Dropped shells make a mess, attracts squirrels
The best seed mix
If you want an excellent bird seed mix that attracts most of the popular backyard birds, you can’t go wrong with Wagner’s Greatest Variety Mix.
With lots of black oil sunflower, along with striped sunflower seeds, sunflower chips, white millet, red millet, cracked corn, red milo, nyjer, peanut kernels, canary seed and safflower, Wagner’s Greatest Variety Mix is a can’t-resist buffet for finches, chickadees, cardinals, jays, titmice, sparrows, woodpeckers, juncos, and other common birds.
Fill your hopper, platform, or hanging bird feeder for the most visitors, or scatter some on a ground feeder for doves and other scavenging birds.
Like most premixed bird seed blends, Wagner’s Greatest Variety Mix does contain some less-popular or frequently wasted seed, but the majority of the seeds are crowd-pleasers.
You can choose from a 6-pound or 16-pound bag, depending on how many birds visit your feeders.
Pros: Attracts a wide variety of birds without having to buy seed separately
Cons: Contains some less popular types of seed, birds will toss undesirable seeds out of the feeder, appeals to squirrels
The best no-mess seed
Lyric Sunflower Kernels are already shelled, so your feathered friends won’t leave piles of empty shells underneath your feeder. Less mess, less stress.
The biggest problem with feeding wild birds is that you’re often left with a mess. Birds drop shells to the ground and kick undesired seeds out of the feeder. Unless you hose or sweep daily, your yard can quickly become unsightly. To the rescue: Lyric Sunflower Kernels.
This bird seed contains nothing but pure sunflower seed pieces, but they are already shelled, so wild birds can happily dine without making a mess underneath the feeder. Plus, because sunflower seed is so popular with so many species of birds, it’s unlikely you’ll have leftover or wasted seed.
Fill your hopper, tube, platform, or ground feeder with the sunflower kernels, and enjoy watching finches, titmice, sparrows, grosbeaks, buntings, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, doves, and other favorite species gather for the feast.
Lyric sells a 5-pound and a 25-pound bag of the sunflower kernels.
Pros: No shells to make a mess, little wasted seed, appeals to a very wide range of birds
Cons: Attracts squirrels, can spoil easily if the seed gets wet
The best for finches
If you love small songbirds like the American goldfinch, fill your feeders with Wagner’s Nyjer Seed and listen to their happy singing.
Tiny black nyjer seed – it’s also called thistle seed – is the top favorite of small songbirds, including the beautiful yellow, black, and white American goldfinch. Wagner’s Nyjer Seed also attracts house finches, purple finches, redpolls, indigo buntings, and pine siskins.
Because the seed is so small, it’s generally served out of thistle feeders or sock feeders specifically designed to dispense the seeds without allowing large bully birds to hog all the food.
Small songbirds can easily pull the nyjer seeds out of the feeder’s small ports or mesh, but larger birds can’t get a grip or perch, so give up in frustration.
Since nyjer spoils fairly easily, it’s best to only provide as much seed at one time as your feathered visitors will eat within a day or so.
Choose from 2-pound, 5-pound, 10-pound, 20-pound, and 50-pound bags, depending on your needs.
Pros: Very appealing to small songbirds, little waste, nyjer won’t sprout if it falls to the ground
Cons: Spoils easily, somewhat expensive, can be messy
The best for cardinals
Fill your feeders with Kaytee Safflower Seed and enjoy watching gorgeous northern cardinals come calling.
If you live in the eastern half of the United States, you can enjoy the thrill of attracting northern cardinals to your backyard. The bright red plumage of the male cardinal is so distinctive, you don’t even have to have birding knowledge to recognize it. Females aren’t brightly colored but are still very pretty with yellow-gray bodies and soft brown tails and wings.
While cardinals are happy to dine on several types of bird seed, they go crazy for safflower. That’s why filling your hopper, platform, or hanging feeder with Kaytee Safflower Seed is likely to bring them calling. Other common birds that like safflower include grosbeaks, jays, and woodpeckers.
Because safflower seeds have thick shells, many other backyard birds will pass them by. Although nothing deters a squirrel that is hungry enough, many of these bushy-tailed bird feeder thieves will leave safflower seed alone.
Pros: Attracts cardinals and other strong-beaked birds, squirrels generally leave it alone
Cons: Appeals to a smaller variety of birds than other seed types, messy shells drop under the feeder
The best for bluebirds
Yes, we know it’s a little gross to think about, but if you want to attract bluebirds to your yard, you’ll need to skip the seed and tempt these insect-lovers with freeze-dried Kaytee Mealworms.
Bluebirds don’t eat a lot of seed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t attract them to your backyard. It just means you’ll need to offer them what they do like, which are insects or other high-protein foods. And whether they are eastern, western, or mountain bluebirds, most of these happiness-inducing birds love a good meal of Kaytee Mealworms.
The larvae of a type of beetle, mealworms aren’t actually too gross, as such things go, and since they are freeze-dried, not wiggling and alive, most people find the ick-factor very bearable.
While the worms are an excellent food source for bluebirds all year round, they are especially appreciated during the spring nesting season, when the parent birds need a lot of food for their young.
Offer up mealworms in a platform or hanging tray. Don’t pour out too much at one time, as these are a supplement to the bluebirds’ diet, not a mainstay. And don’t be surprised if other feathered friends come calling. Cardinals, robins, wrens, and woodpeckers also enjoy them.
Pros: Very appealing to bluebirds and other insect-eating species
Cons: Some birds will not eat freeze-dried mealworms, only appealing to a limited variety of birds, somewhat expensive
Best for woodpeckers
- Pine Tree Farms
Give woodpeckers something besides wood to peck with Pine Tree Farms Peanut Butter Suet Cake.
There are several species of woodpeckers found in North America, including the downy, pileated, redheaded, red-bellied, and hairy woodpecker. What all of them share in common – along with a propensity for hammering at the siding of your home and attractive feathers typically touched with red – is a love of peanuts and other high-protein foods, such as suet.
Suet, which is rendered fat, is a favorite of many backyard birds, especially during the winter, when cold weather increases the need for calories and makes food harder to find by foraging.
Pine Tree Farms Peanut Butter Suet Cake combines three things loved by woodpeckers, as well as nuthatches, wrens, and chickadees: suet, chopped peanuts, and peanut butter. That’s it. No unnecessary or unhealthy ingredients here, just high-protein, high-fat fuel for your favorite feathered friends.
As with all suet cakes, you’ll want to offer these in a suet feeder specifically designed to hold the cakes up high. Beware, however. Squirrels love suet and peanuts as much as woodpeckers do, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for these backyard raiders.
It’s also best to limit suet feeding to cool days, as the fat melts in high temperatures, and quickly goes rancid.
Pros: No extra ingredients, good for winter feeding, loved by several types of birds as well as woodpeckers
Cons: Attractive to squirrels, suet can be messy if it melts
Check out our other birdwatcher buying guides
Birdwatching is a fun, rewarding, and beautiful pastime. But to get those feathered visitors flocking to your yard, you’ll need to choose the right bird feeders to attract different types of birds.
So we did the research for you, and gathered up this selection of the best bird feeders, whether you’re hoping to attract hummingbirds, want to see orioles, can’t get enough finches, or are just hoping for the widest variety of birds possible.
Here are the best bird feeders you can buy:
- Best hummingbird feeder: HummzInger Ultra Hummingbird Feeder
- Best platform bird feeder: Woodlink 3 in 1 Platform Bird Feeder
- Best tube bird feeder: Nibble Weatherproof Antibacterial Bird Feeder
- Best hopper bird feeder: Perky-Pet Copper Panorama Bird Feeder
- Best window bird feeder: Nature’s Hangout Window Bird Feeder
- Best thistle bird feeder: Stokes Select Little-Bit Finch Feeder
- Best Oriole bird feeder: Songbird Essentials Ultimate Oriole Feeder
- Best suet feeder: Stokes Select Double Suet Bird Feeder
- Best squirrel-proof bird feeder: Squirrel Buster Standard Bird Feeder
Most species of birds enjoy a good bath and take them fairly frequently. Perhaps more importantly, a bird bath not only provides a convenient spot for cleaning feathers, it also provides an easy drink of water.
There are several different types of bird baths available, so we did the research for you and assembled this guide to the best choice for each of the common styles.
Here are the best bird baths you can buy: