Birds are highly discriminating in their eating habits. But there are four primary food groups that whet their appetites: seeds, berries (including nectar), insects, and meat.
Most seed-eating birds, such as cardinals, jays, and chickadees, flutter and chirp at black-oil sunflower seed. It's high in oil content, which keeps birds warm during winter.
By themselves, sunflower seeds are expensive. Bird feed producers therefore use a variety of price-cutters to make birding an affordable hobby. They sometimes mix sunflower seeds with cheaper millet and oats.
Although sunflower seeds are ideal for several common species, they do not meet the approval of juncos, towhees, song sparrows, and redpolls. Millet seems to please their palates.
Niger thistle seed is a favorite of small-billed seed eaters such as siskins and goldfinches. It's costly, but if you love goldfinches, it's worth it.
Berry (or fruit) eaters such as bluebirds, cedar waxwings, and mocking birds enjoy raisins and slices of oranges, among other fruits. Suet can substitute for many insect-eaters, especially in winter. The fat keeps birds such as woodpeckers, chickadees, and titmice warm in winter.
A creative bird lover offers this gourmet recipe: Heat suet on a stove, until it melts. Add bird seed. Stir. Pour it into molds or cups, chill, and place in feeder.
The following is a list of some common bird species and their food preferences:
American goldfinch - Hulled and oil-type sunflower seeds and thistle seeds.
Blue jay - Sunflower seeds of all kinds and peanut kernels.
Brown-headed cowbird - Most millets and canary seed.
Brown thrasher - Hulled and black-striped sunflower seeds.
Carolina chickadee - All kinds of sunflower seeds.
Chickadees - All types of sunflower seeds and peanut kernels.
Common grackle - Black-striped and hulled sunflower seeds and cracked corn.
Dark-eyed junco - White and red millet and canary seed.
European starling - Peanut hearts, hulled oats, and cracked corn.
Evening grosbeak - All kinds of sunflower seeds.
Hairy and downy woodpeckers - Suet.
House finch - Oil-type sunflower seeds.
House sparrow - White millet.
Mourning dove - Oil-type sunflower seeds, white millet, thistle, wheat, hulled oats, cracked corn.
Northern cardinal - All sunflower seeds.
Pine siskin - Thistle and sunflower seeds of all types.
Purple finch - All sunflower seeds.
Red-bellied woodpecker - Black-striped sunflower seeds (occasionally).
Redwing blackbird - White and red and golden millet.
Scrub jay - Peanut kernels and black-striped sunflower.
Song and tree sparrows - White and red millet.
Tufted titmouse - Peanut kernels and oil-type sunflower seed.
White-breasted nuthatch - Black-striped sunflower.
White-crowned sparrow - Oil-type and black-striped sunflower seed, white and red millet. (These birds are infrequent visitors to feeders.)
WILD ABOUT BIRDS: THE DNR BIRD FEEDING GUIDE
By Carrol Henderson
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, $19.95
By Richard Mallery
THE BIRD GARDEN: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO ATTRACTING BIRDS TO YOUR BACKYARD THROUGHOUT THE YEAR
By Stephen Kress
Foreword by Roger Tory Peterson
NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY CONCISE BIRDFEEDER HANDBOOK
By Robert Burton
DK Publishing, $24.95