Birdfeeding Guide

I feed the birds all year long. There are many arguments for and against this practice. I do it because I like having as many birds around as possible all the time.

Feeding Hummingbirds

Hummer at my nectar feeder
Hummingbirds’ diet consists of nectar from flowers, sap from trees and insects. They will come to “nectar” feeders set out in your yard or garden areas. It’s best to use regular sugar mixed with water (1 part sugar to 4 parts water). I mix 4 tblspns regular cane sugar in 1 cup of water.

Many of the commercially prepared hummingbird food mixes contain red dye for color and should be avoided (the color adds nothing but chemicals).

NEVER use sugar-substitutes – they have no nutritional value only sweetness and can cause real harm like starvation.

As with any feeder – keep them clean. Change feeder mix and clean thoroughly. Rinse feeder with hot water – no soap – and, if possible, swab out the inside with a small bottle brush. Sugar/water mix hung in a sunny spot in warm weather will ferment and should be changed at least once a week – more often in hot weather.


There are a lot of different seeds, mixes and feed products available for offering to the birds. Their acceptance is varied by location and species. The information contained here is from my opinions, observations and experiences from over 25 yrs. of feeding the wild bird population here in Southern Maine.

Sunflower Seed – I have always found that the most widely accepted type of seed is sunflower seed. It doesn’t seem to matter to the birds what type of sunflower seed. They will eat any type – black oil, striped or sunflower hearts. I have tried all three.

Black oil sunflower seeds provide more nutrition than striped (according to articles I’ve read).

Striped have large hulls that the birds don’t eat and can make an awful mess under feeders that is toxic to grass and some other plants. The black oil hulls are smaller but still build up over time and have to be removed as they are also toxic to grass and plants.

Sunflower hearts (or chips) leave no mess at all and are the most expensive to buy but the birds eat them all. No toxic and unsightly hulls to clean up.

All the resident or year-round birds here eat sunflower seeds – chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, mourning doves, woodpeckers (downy and hairy), bluejays, etc.

Thistle or Niger Seed -This tiny and expensive seed is relished by all the finches. They will sit at the feeder and just eat them until something spooks them.

Feeding thistle seed requires a special thistle feeder with small holes that only allow the small seeds through.

It’s expensive but a 5lb. bag lasts a few weeks here (longer if there are no finches around!). The only other birds I’ve seen eating thistle are the Chickadees and Juncos.
Cracked Corn – an inexpensive seed that is best offered to the ground feeders. It’s eaten by Mourning Doves, Bluejays, Juncos, Sparrows and in the depths of Winter, I’ve seen Partridge eat it. Of course, the squirrels also love it and there’s never anything wasted.

Other Bird Seeds

Peanuts Hearts – I have tried these several times with not much acceptance from the resident birds. The bluejays and squirrels were the most enthusiastic. In my opinion, a waste of money and feeder space.

Safflower Seeds – A “puffy” white seed that is supposed to be a favorite food for cardinals. I don’t have any cardinals that stay around for long so I don’t have much experience with safflower seeds. I have tried them but they were eaten only by bluejays and squirrels (either will eat anything).

“Wild Bird Seed Mixes” – most contain a lot of red millet which is not a popular food for any birds around here. There is only a small fraction of sunflower seed. The bulk of these mixes is millet and cracked corn. In my opinion, these are the most expensive to buy as not many birds eat the bulk of the seeds. If you want to offer a seed mixture, make your own by mixing the seeds that are popular in your area.

Feeding Suet & Peanut Butter Mixes

Suet – raw suet or suet cakes in a variety of “flavors” – is eaten by the “bug eaters” and provide a lot of high fat content that the birds need to stay warm during the cold Winter months.

Suet can be bought at the grocery store as raw suet or as suet cakes and placed out in suet bags or wire cages built for this purpose (suet feeders). Suet cakes are more convenient and less messy to deal with than the raw suet. These are all that I have used for the past few years.

Suet cakes will often have some seeds or berries mixed in. That’s ok but usually unnecessary. Plain suet cakes with no seed or berries work best.

Suet / Peanut Butter Mixes – several times I have put out suet cakes in two different suet feeders. One had a variety of suet/seed cakes and one had a suet/peanut butter mix. The suet/peanut butter mix was hardly touched and the two feeders were less than a foot apart.

It’s my opinion that birds just don’t like peanuts. Why would they? Peanuts grow under ground and few birds would ever get to make them part of their natural diet unless they could dig them up!

Many birds will eat peanuts – bluejays, pigeons, crows, etc. – but they will eat almost anything and also like (and probably prefer) dog food.

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