After filling my feeders for the first time this fall, it seems a good time to answer some basic questions about feeding wild birds.
To keep it simple, offer black-oil sunflower seed in a high quality tube feeder made by Aspects or Droll Yankees. I have tubes made by these manufacturers that have lasted more than 20 years.
Black-oil sunflower seed is the single food that attracts the greatest variety of seed-eating birds. Its thin shell is easy to crack, and the meat has a high fat content. In fact, black-oil sunflower seeds are the source of grocery store sunflower oil.
Striped sunflower seed also attracts many seed-eating birds, but its heavier shell is more difficult to crack for smaller birds. It's a favorite of cardinals, grosbeaks and blue jays. Offer striped sunflower seeds in tubes, on platform feeders or in hopper feeders.
Sunflower kernels are more expensive because the hulls have been mechanically removed. However, there's no mess and no waste -- every kernel is eaten. Despite the higher price, sunflower kernels are the best value in wild bird food. But because the hulls have been removed, they must be kept dry. Gold Crest's All-Weather feeder is the only truly weather-proof feeder I can recommend.
Nyjer, the tiny black seeds often incorrectly called "thistle," attracts goldfinches, house finches, pine siskins and purple finches. Imported from Africa and southeast Asia, Nyjer is more expensive than sunflower seed, but its high oil content makes it great winter food. Offer Nyjer in a tube feeder specifically designed with tiny feeding ports for finches.
Nuts such as peanuts, walnuts, pecans and almonds are additional expensive bird foods, but their appeal to species such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers justifies the expense. Droll Yankees' Big Top is the ideal nut feeder.
White millet is a great seed for ground-feeding native sparrows, towhees, doves and juncos. Scatter millet on platform feeders or evenly spread on the ground. And remember that millet is usually the dominant ingredient in many bird seed mixes.
Also, read the ingredients labels found on seed mixes. Don't buy mixes that include milo (sorghum) or cereal grains such as wheat and oats. These are filler seeds that birds rarely eat.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 AM WVLY (Wheeling), and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 AM WMNY (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com, and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.