Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (2023)


Wild Birds

ByMelissa Mayntz

Updated on 06/30/22

Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (1)

Birdseed for outdoor feeders is a nutritional supplement meant to cater to the general bird population, and some benefit specific species of birds. There are many types of seed that can offer a food source to birds in need of an energy boost during migration and other times of the year. Inexpensive birdseed mixes typically contain large quantities of milo and millet, as well as smaller amounts of cracked corn, sunflower seeds, and other seeds or grain. Wheat is a popular filler addition but has little nutritional value for birds. These mixes can be cheaper and easy to use, but birders may see large quantities of waste as birds seek out favorite seeds in the mix.

Higher cost mixes often have more popular and desirable seeds, such as sunflower seeds or even sunflower hearts, pumpkin seeds, and nuts or nut hearts. These mixes may even contain bits of dried fruit, dried mealworms, or other exceptional treats that appeal to some bird species. Elaborate mixes are often marketed as bird-specific, such as a "songbird mix" or "finch mix" depending on what seeds are included. Below, we’ll break down the different types of birdseed and what to consider when choosing which is best for your outdoor feeder.

Types of Birdseed for Outdoor Feeders
Black Oil Sunflower SeedHighest cost seed with thin shell, popular with all types of birdsTop source of quality, high-fat foodSeeds are squirrel magnets
Striped Sunflower SeedHigher cost with thick shell, attracts large birdsSomewhat squirrel-proofTough for most birds to open
Safflower SeedHigher cost with thick shell, attracts songbirdsPacked with nutrition, very squirrel-proofUncommon seed, birds need time to get used to the taste
Hulled Sunflower SeedHigher cost shell-free seed, attracts many types of birdsSuperior source of fat, fiber, protein, and vitaminsMay spoil faster without shells
NyjerHigher cost small seed, attracts small-beaked birdsHigh in nutritionTeeny seeds create mess, needs specific types of feeders
MilletLower cost small grain, attracts small-beaked birdsSource of essential nutritionDoes not work in mesh feeders or small tubes
Cracked CornLowest cost medium-size grain, attracts many types of birdsEasily available source, rich in protein and fiberEasily rots or turns mushy if too fine

The Best Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeders

  • 01 of 08

    Black Oil Sunflower Seed

    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (2)

    Best for: All birds

    Black oil sunflower seeds are the single most popular seed for different bird species. A key component of many birdseed mixes, black oil sunflower seeds are also available without other seeds mixed in. These seeds are also often formed into seed blocks and cakes, often with whimsical shapes such as hearts, bells, or wreaths for holidays.

    Black oil sunflower seeds have thin shells and a high oil content that appeals to the majority of bird species, including cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, finches, titmice, woodpeckers, grosbeaks, and jays. As a smaller type of sunflower seed, black oil seeds are also more economical because a single bag will contain more seeds than a similarly sized bag of striped sunflower seeds. Bird gardeners can also grow and harvest black oil sunflower seeds during the summer months and birds will strip the seeds from the flower heads when the plants mature.

    These sunflower seeds can be offered in a wide variety of feeders, including hoppers, tube, or mesh feeders with wide openings and open trays and platforms. If seed is sprinkled directly on the ground, any ground-feeding birds will enjoy the feast.


    Squirrels love these seeds, too. Make sure you have baffles to protect a feeder from squirrels that will snatch all the black oil sunflower seeds.

    How to Grow and Use Black Oil Sunflower Seeds in Your Garden

  • 02 of 08

    Striped Sunflower Seed

    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (3)

    Best for: Larger birds (with stronger beaks)

    Similar to black oil seeds, striped sunflower seed is a good high-fat, high-oil seed that many birds will sample. The hulls on striped sunflowers are thicker and harder than black oil sunflower seed, however, making it more difficult for smaller birds or birds with weaker bills to feed.

    All the birds that will eat other types of sunflower seed will munch on striped sunflower seed, but it is most popular with larger species such as cardinals, jays, and grackles. If both types of sunflower seed are available in the same mix, the striped seed may be eaten last as birds naturally seek out easier, more convenient foods first.

    Striped sunflower seed can be offered the same way as black oil sunflower seed, in hopper feeders, wide-mouthed tubes, broad mesh feeders, or in open trays, dishes and platform feeders. The good news? Squirrels do not seem to prefer striped sunflower seeds.

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  • 03 of 08

    Safflower Seed

    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (4)

    Best for: Medium and large songbirds

    Safflower is an annual flower seed favored by medium and large songbirds. Commercially, safflower is grown around the world, with the greatest production in Asia, Africa, and India.

    While it looks like a white sunflower seed, safflower is actually a completely different plant. The white seeds are favorites of doves, titmice, and cardinals, though other songbirds will also feed on safflower seeds if sunflower seeds are not available. Safflower is generally more expensive than other seeds and may be mixed with sunflower chips or millet in premium mixes to be more affordable and appealing to more bird species. Because this seed has a somewhat bitter taste, it is usually neglected by squirrels and other wildlife, making it a good option if bird feeder pests are a problem.

    Safflower can be offered in any feeder where sunflower seeds will fit, including hopper feeders, large mesh feeders, and open trays and dishes.

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  • 04 of 08

    Hulled Sunflower Seed

    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (5)

    Best for: All songbirds

    Hulled sunflower seed, also called chips or hearts, is popular with many songbirds. Because these seeds already have the hulls removed, there is no waste left around the feeder.

    Hulled sunflower seeds are rich in oil and a high source of calories for birds, making them a popular feeder option year-round. Hulled seeds are more expensive than regular sunflower seed but may be more economical when purchased by weight because there is no waste. These seeds will not grow if spilled on the ground, ideal for garden areas where extra growth is not welcome. All songbirds, including finches, sparrows, cardinals, titmice, and chickadees, enjoy hulled sunflower seeds.

    Offer hulled sunflower seeds in open platform or dish feeders, hopper feeders, or any type of feeder where regular sunflower seed can be offered.


    Hulled sunflower seeds are ideal for winter bird food. Birds do not need to waste energy trying to remove the hull to open seeds.

    Best 8 Bird Foods for the Winter Season

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.

  • 05 of 08


    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (6)

    Best for: Smaller birds

    Nyjer seed is also called nyger or thistle seed and is a small, dark, elongated seed that is very lightweight.

    This oil-rich, high-fat, high-protein seed originated in Africa and is a favorite for many small birds, including siskins, goldfinches, redpolls, and juncos. Quail and larger finches will often feed on the ground beneath Nyjer feeders, effectively cleaning up spilled seed. While Nyjer is more expensive than larger seeds, it is a good economic value because little is wasted.​

    Because this seed is so light, it is best to offer it only in feeders with small openings so it is not easily spilled or blown out of wider feeders. Tubes with small, narrow openings as well as metal or nylon mesh feeders are ideal for offering Nyjer to backyard birds.

    Birds That Eat Nyjer Seed

  • 06 of 08


    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (7)

    Best for: Smaller birds

    Millet, more formally called white proso millet, is a grass seed that's very popular with small birds. It is available in both white (pictured) and red varieties, and both are suitable as food for backyard birds. This is a small seed, smaller than a grain of rice.

    Millet is high in starch, protein, fiber, and fat, and is a good food source for small birds. It is particularly favored by finches, juncos, buntings, sparrows, and towhees, though many birds will sample millet, especially when it is blended with other types of seed.

    Millet can be offered in small tube feeders and hopper feeders, as well as open platform or dish feeders. Sprinkling the seed directly on the ground will appeal to ground-feeding species, or it can be grown in a bird garden for a natural food source. It's important to keep millet as dry as possible. Only set out a little bit that can be eaten in a day or set the seed in low tray feeders that have ample drainage.


    Did you know you can grow millet? Growing it in your garden can reduce your birdseed budget.

    Is White Proso Millet Seed a Good Birdseed?

  • 07 of 08

    Cracked Corn

    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (8)

    Best for: Ground-feeding birds

    Cracked corn is available in different grinding sizes individually and as part of seed mixes. It is a very economical type of grain, and easily available not only at wild bird stores but also at agricultural feed stores and many garden centers.

    Cracked corn is popular for large ground-feeding birds such as starlings, quail, and grackles, as well as pheasants, wild turkeys, and ducks. A good source of both oil and starch, cracked corn is inexpensive and can be used to tempt larger birds away from more expensive seeds. Coarse ground corn is best and most attractive to birds, though more finely ground corn can be mixed with other seeds if desired. In commercial mixes, cracked corn may be added as filler to add weight and bulk to the mix and lower its overall price.​

    Offer cracked corn in a large platform or dish feeder, sprinkled directly on the ground, or mixed in with other types of seed.


    Cracked corn is prone to rotting and mold as a result of moisture. To reduce the risk, do not buy it in plastic bags and put it out in tiny amounts in wet or humid weather to prevent it from becoming too moist.

    Attract Wild Birds With Cracked Corn

  • 08 of 08

    Red Milo (Sorghum)

    Choose the Right Birdseed for Your Outdoor Feeder (9)

    Best for: Game birds and larger birds

    Milo is a filler seed with poor nutritional value for birds, but it does offer some iron, fiber, and calcium for birds that eat it. Game birds, including turkeys, pheasants, doves, and quail, will eat milo, as will ducks, geese, grackles, jays, and other large birds. In individual backyards, the birds that will eat milo may vary depending on what better food sources are available.

    This grain is available in both red (pictured) and white varieties. Because it is large and bulky, it is less expensive than most other types of birdseed. Milo is often used as a filler in very cheap commercial seed mixes, making them less valuable because much of the seed could be wasted.

    Offer milo or birdseed mixes with high proportions of milo in hopper, dish, or platform feeders where birds can easily access it. To avoid excessive wasted seed or spillage, it may be best to offer this seed in limited quantities and only refill the seed when it is completely consumed.

    How to Use Milo Seeds for Feeding Birds

Choosing Birdseed for Outdoor Feeders

Backyard birders can augment commercially mixed seed by adding greater amounts of plain sunflower seeds, peanuts, or other foods. It is also possible to buy quantities of plain seeds and create a homemade, custom mix suited just to suit the specific birds that visit your feeders. In addition, consider mixing fruits or dried fruits in with some seeds in open trays for berry-eating birds, such as robins and bluebirds, that don't eat seeds.

Mixed seed can be offered in many types of feeders, including hoppers, tubes, and mesh feeders, as well as open trays or platforms or even just sprinkled on the ground for easy feeding. Rake up old seed frequently so the birds do not accidentally consume rotted or moldy seed.

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