How to Choose the Best Birdseed

Feeding birds is an enjoyable hobby for many people. Watching songbirds come to your backyard feeders provides entertainment, and connecting with nature right outside your door. To attract the maximum number and variety of birds, it’s important to offer them the best birdseed. With so many types and brands of birdseed available, choosing the right one for your area can be confusing. Here is an in-depth guide to selecting the optimal birdseed to bring birds flocking to your feeders.

Consider the Species You Want to Attract

The type of birds you hope to attract will determine the best seed for your needs. Different birds prefer different seeds. Here are some common backyard birds and the seeds that appeal to them:

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds

  • Chickadees
  • Nuthatches
  • Titmice
  • Cardinals
  • Blue Jays
  • Goldfinches
  • House Finches
  • Pine Siskins

Black oil sunflower seeds are the number one choice for many backyard birds. The thin shell makes it easy for small birds to crack open, and the high fat content offers desired nutrition. These smaller black sunflower seeds have more kernel per pound than the larger gray-striped sunflower seeds.


  • Goldfinches
  • Pine Siskins
  • House Finches

Nyjer seed, also called thistle seed, attracts finch species. The small size allows them to pick out this seed from mixed offerings. The outer shell is soft enough for their small beaks. An added bonus is that squirrels don’t like nyjer seed.


  • Cardinals
  • Chickadees
  • Titmice
  • Nuthatches
  • Mourning Doves

Safflower seed is often used to deter squirrels, as they don’t care for its strong flavor. Birds like cardinals and chickadees will readily eat it though. Its thick shell can be difficult for some smaller birds. Offer safflower in feeders with small ports or mixing it with other seeds.


  • Woodpeckers
  • Chickadees
  • Titmice
  • Nuthatches
  • Blue Jays

Whole peanuts, in the shell or shelled, appeal to birds like woodpeckers that cling to feeders. Chopped peanuts will attract smaller birds. Just make sure they are unsalted.


  • Doves
  • Juncos
  • Sparrows
  • Towhees

The small size of millet makes it accessible to ground feeding birds like juncos and doves. Scatter it on the ground or platform feeders. Be aware that it is also a favorite of sparrows.

Cracked Corn

  • Doves
  • Grackles
  • Pheasants
  • Quail
  • Turkey

Whole kernels of corn are too large for many birds. Cracked corn, crushed into smaller pieces, can attract bigger birds like doves. Dried corn is more likely to draw pests.

Nyjer Mixed with Seed

Mixing nyjer with black oil sunflower seed and perhaps a little millet or cracked corn covers bases for more species. The sunflower and corn offer nutrition, while the nyjer will lure in goldfinches.

By offering seeds that appeal to the type of birds you want to view, you can target specific species. Just keep in mind that various birds will visit diverse feeders, so unwanted guests may come by too. Having multiple feeders with different seeds can help you cater to the birds you want to prioritize.

Buy High Quality Birdseed

Birdseed can vary greatly in quality, with major differences in the purity of seeds. Low grades contain more filler grains and debris that birds won’t eat. High quality birdseed will have a higher percentage of the actual seeds birds prefer.

Check the ingredient list for specific details on the seed content. Avoid birdseed with unspecified “grain products” which are likely fillers. The seed ingredients should be particular types like millet, sunflower, safflower, etc.

Higher priced birdseed often indicates better quality, with less waste from shells and rejected fillers. Buying birdseed from a specialty bird feeding store rather than a grocery or hardware store can help ensure better seed quality. Consider ordering from an online bird feeding supply company.

Opt for brands known for strict production standards. Companies like Audubon and Wild Birds Unlimited have rigorous seed purity requirements. This results in less waste, more nutrition for birds, and better value for the money.

Inspecting birdseed before you buy can also reveal quality. Quality seed will appear uniform in size, color, and shape. It shouldn’t have an excessive amount of debris, sticks, or leaves mixed in. Give the bag a sniff test too. Good seed will have a fresh, nutty aroma vs musty odors.

Choose the Right Type of Seed for Your Climate

The optimal birdseed for your yard will depend partly on your geographic location and climate. Here are some considerations based on your region:

Hot Southern Climates

Look for birdseed without millet, which can become rancid in hot, humid weather. Millet also sprouts quickly in warm soil if spilled under feeders.

Prioritize black oil sunflower seeds which hold up better in heat. Cooked sunflower hearts and hulled sunflower are other good options, as they resist mold.

Avoid corn, which can spoil rapidly in heat and breed insects.

Cold Northern Climates

Black oil sunflower seeds are still a smart choice to appeal to the greatest number of birds.

Adding millet, cracked corn, and peanut hearts provides needed fat and energy for birds in freezing temperatures.

Avoid safflower and nyjer seed which can become inedible when exposed to snow and rain.

Offer suet supplements for extra nutrition and energy.

Coastal Regions

Blends with sunflower seeds, nyjer, and millet attract species like sparrows, juncos, doves, and gulls.

Avoid shells that swell with moisture, like peanuts in the shell.

Use metal feeders which resist corrosion from saltwater air better than wood feeders.

Dry Regions

Avoid corn, which can harbor deadly aflatoxin fungus in hot, dry conditions.

Use nyjer seed to draw in finches. It withstands dry conditions well.

Shellless options like hulled sunflowers are ideal, as shells can become inedible when dry.

Suet supplements provide needed fat.

Selecting birdseed tailored to challenges in your climate will ensure the best nutrition for visiting birds.

Choose Birdseed Free of Chemicals and Dyes

When possible, opt for organic birdseed free of pesticides and chemical treatments. Conventionally grown seeds are often sprayed with fungicides and insecticides potentially harmful to birds. Organic certification verifies the seed was grown naturally without synthetic chemicals.

Avoid birdseed dyed in colors or bleached white. While dyeing may seem fun, it does not provide any benefit for the birds. The additives and colorings can potentially be unsafe if ingested. Natural, unaltered seeds are best.

Non-GMO birdseed will be free of genetically modified organisms. Look for verification on the label. Sunflower and corn seeds are common GMO crops.

Select Birdseed Fresh and Free of Mold

Because birdseed has a high fat content, it can go rancid over time. Using moldy or expired seeds in feeders risks making birds sick. Here are some tips for freshness:

  • Check expiration dates and don’t buy old seed. Most birdseed will stay fresh 6-12 months if stored properly.
  • Avoid sunflower or mix birdseed with greyish hulls, which indicates stale seeds.
  • Give bags a sniff test. Good birdseed should have a nutty aroma. Discard musty smelling seed.
  • Buy more small birdseed bags rather than large buckets to avoid spoilage before use.
  • Store birdseed in sealed containers in a cool, dry place to maintain freshness longer. Refrigeration can extend shelf life.
  • Clean feeders regularly and remove wet or moldy seed under feeders before it spreads.

Discard any seed that smells bad, looks discolored, or has visible mold. Using fresh birdseed will lead to healthy birds and reduce waste.

Factor in Your Budget

Higher quality birdseed usually comes with a higher price tag. But better seeds lead to less waste and cost efficiency in the long run. Here are some tips for affordability:

  • Consider buying birdseed in bulk online at wholesale clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club, or Amazon. Look for reputable brands to ensure purity.
  • Check stores for sales, coupons, and rebates on birdseed. Retail birding stores often run promotions during popular feeding months.
  • Buy plain sunflower seeds in bulk which give the most nutrition per pound. Then add smaller amounts of nyjer, peanuts, or millet.
  • Opt for store brand over name brand seed, which is often just as nutritious.
  • Grow your own sunflowers in the summer for “free” seeds in the fall and winter.
  • Join community birding groups which sometimes have co-ops or discounts for members.
  • Reduce wasted seeds by selecting highest quality birdseed, sheltered feeders, and frequent sweeping under feeders.

Investing in quality birdseed, even if costs a little more, saves money over time. Avoid the cheapest brands which are mostly filler seeds birds won’t eat. With some savvy shopping, you can find an affordable birdseed budget for your unique needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of birdseed is best for wild birds?

Black oil sunflower seeds appeal to the greatest variety of wild birds. Sunflower seeds with thin shells and high fat content provide excellent nutrition for small songbirds. Mixed birdseed with some nyjer thistle, millet, safflower, peanuts, and corn will also attract diverse birds. Avoid cheap “filler” seeds.

What birdseed do blue jays eat?

Blue jays enjoy most types of seeds, especially sunflower seeds in or out of the shell. They will frequent bird feeders with mixed seed, peanuts, corn, and nuts. Platform feeders allow them to pick out their favorite morsels.

What birds eat safflower seeds?

Safflower seeds appeal to cardinals, chickadees, finches, titmice, grosbeaks, mourning doves, blue jays, and nuthatches. Squirrels dislike the strong flavor. Safflower’s thick shell can deter smaller birds, so offer it in feeders with ports sized for thicker seeds.

What birdseed is bad for birds?

Avoid cheap, bulk birdseed with lots of filler grains like milo, wheat, oats, rice, and barley that birds won’t eat. Stale seed or seed with mold can make birds ill. Don’t offer seed with dyes, chemicals, or insecticides.

Is expensive birdseed worth it?

Higher priced birdseed usually indicates higher quality ingredients with less waste. The higher fat, more nutritious seeds that birds prefer cost more than filler grains. More expensive seed leads to less waste overall, better nutrition for birds, and happy repeat bird visitors.

What homemade birdseed do birds like?

Some easy homemade seed mixes to try are crushed cereals or crackers, uncooked pasta, dried fruits, oatmeal, shredded coconut, millet, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts, and flax or thistle seeds. Avoid salted, sugary, or seasoned ingredients. Package in a tight sealed container and use within a few weeks before it spoils. Homemade seed is more for novelty, not complete nutrition.


Offering quality birdseed tailored to your backyard birds provides enjoyment, education, and benefits to your local ecosystem. Black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, safflower, peanuts, and millet attract most small songbirds. Check regional and climate factors. Organic, chemical-free birdseed provides healthiest nutrition. Avoid old, moldy seed. With some consideration of your bird species and budget, you can pick an optimal birdseed to bring in flocks of colorful feathered visitors.

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