Best Wild Bird Food

Updated November 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

17 Models Considered
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best wild bird foods

Last Updated November 2019

There’s more to feeding backyard birds than throwing out some seeds and hoping for the best. Depending on where you live and what kind of birds you are able to attract, you will need to select the right food for your local feathered friends.

Feeding wild birds can be a long-term commitment. Once you put out a feeder, it can take a while for birds to discover it. But when they do, birds will begin to look for food in your vicinity all the time, so be prepared to continue feeding throughout the year, and not just in winter when food is scarce. In fact, spring and summer (during nesting season) is even more important, when adults raise their broods. You don’t want them to waste valuable energy coming to your feeder to look for tasty treats if they aren’t there.

In return for your efforts and diligence, though, you’ll be treated to a fascinating array of wildlife right in your backyard, and enjoy seeing them delight at the cornucopia you have provided for them. Read on for how to select the right wild bird food, and see our top picks.

A recent UK study found that people who watch and feed birds at home have less anxiety, stress and depression, and felt more relaxed and connected to nature.

Key considerations

If you are successful at your bird feeding, you will need to replenish the feeders often — as much as once a day. Before you begin shopping for a wild bird food, here are some important considerations.

How much seed do you need?

Buying in bulk will save you money if you think you will have many birds eating at your feeder(s). If you buy in bulk, it is well worth buying online for delivery rather than heaving bulky bags home from the store.

If you only have a small feeder and don’t need as much, don’t get so much seed that it spoils before use. One bag under 20 pounds at a time will suffice.

What kind of food will attract the most birds?

The following are important factors to know so that you buy the right kind of food:

  • Geographic location: Know what birds are native to your area, and also what species tend to migrate through it at certain times of year.

  • Climate: You may need different seeds in different seasons.

  • Bird species: No matter how much you want to attract certain birds, if they are not native to your area, no amount of seed will bring them there. Target the appropriate species with their preferred food.

  • Your type of feeder(s): Some are designed for large food like corn kernels and sunflower seeds, while others have fine mesh to hold tiny nyjer seeds and other fine food particles.

Brings hordes of colorful birds to your feeder

Sunflowers are beloved by all birds, especially cardinals and finches. Sunflower seeds spoil a little quicker than other seeds, but you are unlikely to find that a problem with the amount of action at the feeder. The shells are easy for the birds to crack to get to the goods, which has a high energy content.

Types of wild bird food

Wild bird mix

This is the most common type of feed you will find at the grocery or garden supply store, and are often the cheapest. They usually contain millet, cracked corn, milo, wheat, and other grains, plus a few sunflower seeds. Because this is a smorgasbord for the birds, with a lot of “filler” grains, you may find more grackles, sparrows, and blackbirds at your feeder while the more desirable songbirds go elsewhere. You’ll also find this kind of seed creates quite a bit of waste and mess. Higher quality wild bird mixes will have a better mix of the more desirable seeds, however, so check the ingredients. Or, you may want to consider a few different feeders with specialized seeds.

Millet

White millet is for ground feeders like doves and quails, but will also attract blackbirds and sparrows, which makes it less popular as a feed because it can bring too many birds to your yard.

Nyjer

Nyjer (or nijer) seeds are imported seeds from Ethiopia. They are often called thistle seeds but are in fact an herb grown for its edible seed and oil. These are beloved by goldfinches and are fed in small wire feeders or pre-made thistle seed socks. They are heat treated or sterilized so that any remnants that fall on the ground won’t germinate.

Sunflower seed

These come as black oiled sunflower seeds or striped seeds, which have a thicker shell. Most birds love sunflower seeds, and it’s the number one choice for attracting a lot of birds. They are especially good for attracting cardinals, finches, and songbirds. The striped sunflowers are more expensive, but because they are a little tougher to eat, they tend to keep the sparrow count down. There are also sunflower hearts, or chips, which can be used in wire feeders. These have the additional advantage of not producing any debris in the way of hulls.

Cracked corn

This will attract lots of birds, but has its problems. It’s the most likely to have pesticide residue, and it’s a big draw for other critters like deer, squirrels, or even bears. Never use corn that has been treated with fungicide. It will have a red dye indicating that it is toxic to wildlife, pets, and people.

Suet cake

Suet is essentially congealed beef fat, and purists prefer it in this form, although some suet for bird feeding has other ingredients like berries. This will attract chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. It’s super high calorie for them, and a great treat – especially in winter. It comes in cakes, balls, bells, plugs, or nuggets to insert into suet feeders.

Safflower

These small, hard seeds are not popular with blackbirds and starlings, which makes them useful for attracting other birds. They are also not beloved by squirrels – another plus.

Mealworms

These are a tasty treat for the birds and can be bought live, by the tub, and kept in the fridge until used. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can also get them in dried form, though the birds might need to be tempted with a few live ones before eating them, at least at first. Mealworms are a great food to attract chickadees and bluebirds.

Peanuts

Fed in the shell on a tray feeder, this will give you hours of entertainment watching jays, magpies, and even woodpeckers enjoying the haul. Shelled nuts can go in any feeder and can be used to fill out other seed. Don’t use salted or any kind of seasoned peanuts, and make sure nuts don’t spoil as they are more prone to rotting.

Nectar

Sugar water is food for hummingbirds, and will also attract orioles. You may also attract bats to the feeders at night, which helps with insect control in your yard. You can buy it premade, but it’s easier to just make your own simple syrup with water and sugar. Do not use dyed nectar, as it is harmful to the birds. While they are attracted to the red color (a great choice for the feeder), nectar should be clear.

EXPERT TIP

Even urban dwellers can feed the birds with innovative feeders that can attach to balconies or deck railings. There are even some clear plastic box feeders that attach to the outside of a window for indoor viewing.


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EXPERT TIP

Look for a reputable brand that won’t have contaminants, like pesticides, which can be toxic to birds. Best of all, go for seed labelled as organic, or guaranteed pesticide-free.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Keep your feeders clean to stop any diseases or parasites. Once or twice a month, disinfect by soaking feeders in a 10% solution of chlorine bleach and water for a few minutes, and allow to air dry.


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Accessories

  • Feeders. These come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, and are somewhat specialized for certain birds, like small mesh feeders for finches or glass bulbs or tubes for hummingbirds, so the shape and type of feeder will dictate the kind of birds that feed there. You can buy feeders relatively inexpensively or go upscale with fanciful designs.

  • Feeder holders or hangers. You may also need to buy a shepherd’s hook to hang the feeder from, or chains to hang them from branches. You can also get brackets that attach to railings on balconies or decks. Make sure your feeder is placed in an area where birds won’t be exposed to predators or harsh weather.

  • Seed containers. Keep seed in sealed containers, like plastic Tupperware, or small bins. This is especially useful if you buy in bulk, since it will stop it from spoiling  — wet, moldy or overheated seed is actually poisonous to birds — as well as stop spillage that may attract rodents.

Prices

Good quality mixed seed or individual seed such as black sunflower is about 80 cents a pound. Nyjer seeds are about $1.70 a pound. Mealworms are the higher end food at about $5 a pound.

A fancy treat for feathered friends

Like a premium trail mix for birds, this contains an assortment of fruits like papaya, raisins, and cranberries as well as sunflower, nuts, and flaxseed – without any fillers. There’s very little waste, since different types of birds will peck out their favorites, leaving the rest for others. You may find other critters interested in it, though.

Tips

  • For best results, choose food for the birds that you already see in your yard or neighborhood. You’ll attract them to your feeding station quickly. Once a few birds are there, word soon gets around, and you can begin to add other feeders with different seeds that will attract other species.

  • Put the feeder in a safe location and in a place where cats can’t get to them, preferably at eye level. Birds will also prefer not to be out in the open, or in a noisy place (i.e., away from playing kids or barking dogs). Make sure you are not luring them toward any other dangers, like traffic, or to an area where they may be considered a pest.

Other products we considered

For an all around, quality seed mix, try Wagner's 62059 Greatest Variety Blend, which contains 40% sunflower seeds plus eleven other seed varieties. It’s versatile enough to be used in a variety of different feeders, and there’s very little waste. For a real high energy boost, birds will enjoy  Wildlife Sciences High Energy Suet. The ten-pack of cakes offers great value and will attract finches, woodpeckers, cardinals and even hummingbirds and possibly the odd migratory visitor. And for a really natural, healthy treat, try Picky Neb Natural Dried Mealworms. They’re nice, fat, whole dried worms — not pieces — and the birds go crazy for them.

Channel your inner Martha Stewart and get crafty by making your own feeder. A half coconut shell is perfect for suet, as are hollowed out gourds. You can also repurpose a plastic soda bottle as a seed feeder.

FAQ

Q. Can’t I just feed the birds bread?

A. This is not a good nutritional food for birds. It can even lead to a condition called angel wing, which deforms the tip of the wings. Commercial bird food will have the appropriate vitamins and protein to be beneficial for the wildlife. Plus, feeding leftovers is a green light for rodents and other critters.

Q. How do I keep squirrels from feasting at my feeder?

A. There are several feeders on the market designed to keep squirrels out, which work on different principles with varying degrees of success. However, one design that spins around the squirrels or other critters so fast that they fall off and stagger away is not recommended, as it can harm them. For best success, position feeders away from trees, and feed the birds seed that squirrels are less fond of, like safflower or nyjer. Or, you can find seed that’s had hot pepper added — the birds can’t taste it, but the squirrels don’t like it. Alternatively, you could just become an equal opportunity feeder.

Q. How do I stop discarded seeds from sprouting into unsightly weeds?

A. Birds are very messy eaters, and it’s inevitable that some will end up overboard.  You can try putting a tray or sheet below the feeder, which you can clear up regularly – this will also keep rodents at bay. Or, look for non-sprouting seed, or high quality seed which tends to get eaten even from the floor. And any sprouted sunflower seeds are usually welcome!

The team that worked on this review
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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