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Different Types of Bird Feed Explained

February 23, 2022
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suet fat balls for birds

Did you know that in the UK, we spend on average £200 – £300 million on bird feeding products every year?[1] But how many people know that different birds need different bird feed? Or about the different types of bird feed available? Although this is common knowledge amongst bird-lovers, it’s something that most of the British public aren’t aware of at all.

If you are a fledgling bird-watcher, or you would just love to see more wildlife in your garden, you should make sure to do your homework on bird feed. Our winged friends tend to be picky eaters, so it’s important that you provide a variety of seed mixes, feed, and a variety of feeders to keep them coming back for more.

 

Types of Bird Feed

Below, we’ll talk about the different types of bird feed on the market that you can choose from, as well as their benefits.

  • Sunflower Seeds/Hearts
  • Peanuts
  • Niger
  • Millet
  • Suet
  • Mealworms

 

Sunflower Seeds

sunflower seeds

Sunflower seed are an excellent source of nutrition for birds and are by far one of the most popular types of bird feed. They contain plenty of healthy fats and fibre. There are a few different varieties of sunflower seeds to choose from.

  • Black sunflower seeds – contain more oil and have a higher calorific content. They have thin shells which make them accessible for both small and larger birds.
  • Sunflower hearts – there are sunflower seeds without the shells or husks. Alternative names for these seeds are sunflower kernels or cracked sunflower seeds. One of the biggest benefits of sunflower hearts is that they are much tidier than seeds.
  • Sunflower chips – these are smaller than full seeds but still provide great nutrition. This makes them easier for birds to eat, especially young fledglings.
  • Striped sunflower seeds – high in protein and essential oils, these are excellent seeds for larger birds. Due to their size and thicker shells, smaller birds will struggle to eat these.

 

Which birds like these? These seeds are definitely a crowd-pleaser, most loved by sparrows, nuthatches, collared dove finches, dunnocks and blue tits.

How to feed? Sunflower seeds are ideal for any type of bird feeder. If you are buying a shelled variety, keep in mind the mess that birds can produce when eating them.

 

Peanuts

peanuts

Peanuts are another popular type of bird feed to offer your local garden birds. They are packed with fat and protein to give them all the energy they need, which is especially important during colder months. There are a number of peanuts available for garden birds.

  • Whole peanuts – best for mature birds, whole peanuts should be fed from a mesh feeder to prevent young birds choking. Premium and standard varieties are available.
  • Peanut splits – great for attracting birds of all sizes, peanut splits are often mixed with whole peanuts. These should also be fed from a mesh feeder.
  • Peanut granules – chopped peanuts which are perfect for smaller birds and fledglings. These go down particularly well when mixed with other feed types.

When choosing peanuts, it is vitally important that you choose products which are aflatoxin-tested to ensure that they are safe for your feathered friends. Aflatoxins are harmful, poisonous carcinogens which are produced by certain moulds that peanuts are susceptible to during growing and storage. They can be very harmful to birds, so choosing a trusted supplier is a must.

Which birds like these? Most common garden birds will eat peanuts – especially great tits, blue tits, wrens, jays and doves.

How to feed? Always offer peanuts in a bird feeder. This helps to limit the risk of smaller birds taking bigger pieces than they can handle.

Learn more about Bird Peanuts.

 

Niger Seeds

niger seeds

Niger seed is also known as Nyjer, Nyger and Nijer. It is a small, shelled seed which comes from the Guizotia flower. It makes a perfect treat for smaller garden birds (goldfinches are a big fan). They look very similar to Thistle Seeds, so people often mistake them for being the same thing.

Which birds like these? Niger is popular with sparrows, dover, quail, finches and buntings

How to feed? Alongside larger seed like sunflower seed – using a finer-meshed feeder to ensure they do not fall out. Speciality Niger seed feeders are available.

Learn more about Niger Seeds.

 

Suetsuet balls

Suet can be given to birds all-year round but offers the most benefits during autumn and winter when garden birds need more energy. It is the best type of bird feed for colder weather and should be offered alongside a variety of seeds. Suet can come in different forms, including:

  • Balls
  • Pellets
  • Blocks
  • Coconut shells

Seeds, insects and berries are often added to suet to give it more nutritional value, and to make it more interesting for birds.

Which birds like these? Small and large birds alike love suet, including woodpeckers, tits, finches, robins and nuthatches

How to feed? Add suet to your feeding stations or hang around your garden. Some find it best to give birds a surface to rest on whilst they feed on suet, so keep this in mind.

 

Mealworms

mealworms

Mealworms can come dried or live – either way, they are a great source of nutrition for garden birds. They provide fibre, fats and protein all in one. Adding mealworm to your seed mix can make it more appealing for birds. We also supply Calci Worms at Garden Wildlife Direct, which are perfect for fledglings and contain 20/50 times more calcium than mealworms.

Most bird lovers prefer dried mealworms over live mealworms as they are much easier to store, though they can be slightly less nutritious.

Which birds like these? Perching and soft-billed birds such as house sparrows, starlings and thrushes are fans of mealworms, but you can find most species snacking on them when they are available.

How to feed? Either incorporate into a seed mix, or feed melted into suet. During breeding season, you should soak dried mealworm before putting them out to make them easier for baby birds to eat.

Learn more about Mealworms for birds.

 

Mixed Seeds

Mixed Seeds

Buying pre-mixed seeds is a good way of ensuring the birds in your garden are getting the right balance of nutritious feed without the extra work. You can buy different seed mixes for wild birds, for different seasons, and even ‘no grow’ and ‘no mess’ varieties.

Seed mixes are a very convenient way of attracting lots of bird species, so you can spend your time watching and enjoying them rather than worrying about weighing out quantities of seed.

Take a look at our excellent range of seed mixes.

 

Millet Seedmillet for birds

Millet is a great way to get protein, calcium, iron and Vitamin B into birds’ diets. It’s lower in fat than other feed types, but still offers a lot of nutrition whilst aiding with digestion.

Which birds like these? Millet is a favourite of sparrows but is also loved by finches, collared doves and house sparrows.

How to feed? Any feeder is suitable, but we recommend adding it alongside other seeds to stop this small seed from falling out.

 

Best feeds for the winter

During winter (and colder autumn months), you need to provide birds with foods that are low-effort and high-reward. This ensures they aren’t wasting too much energy to get the fats and nutrients which they need to survive.

We recommend feeding suet, sunflower hearts, and crushed seeds. No shells or husks means the birds don’t need to spend time ‘preparing’ their food before eating it. At Garden Wildlife Direct, we have a range of specially selected autumn and winter bird foods to choose from.

 

Best feed for the spring and summer

Once the winter months have ended, natural food sources will be more readily available for birds but this doesn’t mean you should stop feeding. Dry earth can make it harder to access earthworms and summer showers can impede any foraging efforts. Supplying a variety of feed can help to supplement birds’ diets and provide a constant, reliable food source – which is especially important during the spring when many fledglings hatch, and parent birds will need to keep up their energy levels.

No grow and no-mess seed varieties are a favourite of ours as the weather gets warmer, but peanuts, sunflower hearts, mealworms and fresh fruit are excellent choices at this time of year. Avoid supplying suet blocks and fat balls as the heat can cause them to turn rancid. You should also ensure that bird baths and other water holders are topped up and cleaned regularly.

 

Choose the Right Feed

Now you’re clued up on the different types of bird feed available to you, it’s time to go ahead and choose what you are going to feed your garden birds.

Let us know your bird feeding tips and tricks, or if you have any questions about bird feed.

[1] https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/rspb-news/news/details.aspx?id=342483

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