Are you looking for recipes to make inexpensive food in bulk to attract birds to your backyard?
Or do you want to know how to provide your pet bird with the perfect diet for indoor living?
In this article, we cover some essential tips on which ingredients to include, which foods to avoid, and how to make bird cakes the easy way.
Wild Bird Food vs Pet Bird Food
Before we go too far, we need to remind you of a simple reality about caring for birds: Wild birds and pet birds have different nutritional needs.
The food you provide for wild birds is supplemental feeding. They are free to fly away and look for other foods to round out their diet.
On the other hand, the food you provide for your pet bird is all the food they get. You need to pay special attention to their nutritional needs.
Pet bird food is OK for wild birds, although their own blend is better. Wild bird food is not nutritionally balanced for pet birds.
We will tell you what you need to make your own bird food for both wild birds and caged birds.
Let’s start with foods to include in your wild bird food mix.
Foods to Include in Your Homemade Wild Bird Food Mix
Different species of backyard birds have different food preferences, but here are some safe foods that many kinds of wild birds will enjoy.
For most people, when they think of bird food, the first image that comes to mind is seeds.
Most birds love seeds. They are great sources of fat that can power long flights and help birds fend off the winter cold.
They are easy to eat, and they don’t put up a fight when the bird is ready to eat them.
Here is a quick rundown of some of the kinds of seeds many birds love.
Shelled and Cracked Corn
So do cowbirds, geese, starlings, house sparrows, raccoons, deer, and bears. Putting out shelled and cracked corn can attract an animal menagerie.
A perennial problem with shelled and cracked corn is the possible presence of aflatoxin.
This byproduct of fungal contamination can kill birds and pets and make people sick.
It’s OK to put out clean cracked corn that has been stored in a burlap bag (never a plastic bag, due to the possibility of fungal contamination).
Red kernels of dried corn have been treated with a toxic fungicide. Most birds can’t digest popcorn that has already been popped.
Use corn only as an occasional treat for backyard birds.
Buntings, goldfinches, redpolls, and siskins love thistle seeds, but thistle seeds are hard to collect.
The birdseed trade has come up with an alternative food, an African plant in the Aster Family known as nyjer.
Nyjer would be an invasive plant if it were allowed to seed itself under backyard bird feeders.
Imported nyjer is heat-treated. It will sprout if it falls on the soil. Birds can eat the sprouts. But it will not mature into a full-grown weed.
Peanuts are the underground seed of the peanut plant. All kinds of birds and squirrels enjoy them.
They are a great way to attract blue jays, chickadees, titmice, and woodpeckers, although they will also attract bears, raccoons, and squirrels.
Like cracked corn, peanuts can be contaminated with aflatoxin, formed by mold. Don’t feed birds (or people) peanuts that become damp and moldy. Don’t put them out in damp weather.
The best way to offer backyard birds peanuts is from a tray feeder. Expect squirrels to join the party if they can reach the tray.
Cardinals love safflower seeds. Chickadees, doves, and grosbeaks also eat them, but squirrels do not.
Some birds like house sparrows and starlings don’t care for safflower seeds, either.
Safflower seeds have a hard shell that some birds can’t open. Their hard shell keeps them fresh longer in tube feeders.
Sorghum (also known as Milo and Maize)
Sorghum is a favorite of ground-feeding birds such as quail and some kinds of jays.
House sparrows don’t like it, but cowbirds do. Scatter it on the ground, or put it out in trays near ground level.
Sunflower seeds come in two varieties. There are black oil sunflower seeds, or “oilers,” and striped sunflower seeds, which have a much thicker shell.
Oilers are easy for birds to eat. Blackbirds and sparrows have trouble eating striped sunflower seeds.
As you may know from your personal experience eating sunflower seeds, these tasty treats come with a shell. Birds eat the kernel, and let the shell fall to the ground.
One way to avoid the litter underneath your bird feeder is to buy shelled sunflower seeds, but they are more expensive.
Sunflower kernels, sunflower nibs, and sunflower chips spoil quickly, so it is important not to put out more than birds will eat in a single day.
Sunflower seeds are very attractive to squirrels. You may want to add a squirrel baffle to your bird feeder.
You can use almost any kind of feeder for putting out sunflower seeds, but don’t put unshelled sunflower seeds in a tube feeder. They can collect condensation and spoil.
White Proso Millet
Ground-feeding birds like American sparrows, cardinals, doves, juncos, and towhees love white proso millet.
It is an unusually nutritious seed, rich in calcium, and contains more of the amino acids isoleucine, leucine, and methionine than other common kinds of birdseed.
The only downside to putting out white proso millet in your backyard is the fact that cowbirds and house sparrows love it.
They will gather around your feeder to devour white proso millet as soon as you put it out, and then come back for sunflower seeds when you run out of millet.
Seeds That Birds Don’t Actually Eat
Flaxseeds are highly nutritious for people, so they are included in bird seed mixes for marketing purposes.
Unfortunately, they just go to waste, or worse, they spoil and spread mold to the seeds that visiting wild birds will eat.
Similarly, if you see red seeds in your bird seed mix, make sure they are sorghum, which birds will eat, and not red millet, which they won’t.
Any kind of fruit or berry that you would eat is suitable for wild birds. Birds also eat some kinds of fruits and berries that are toxic to humans.
Give birds berries, sliced apples, sliced pineapple, or sliced melon. Soak dried fruit for 20 minutes and then allow it to drain before putting it out for birds.
Birds love jams and jellies, but the sugar can be dehydrating for them. Don’t give birds any kind of sugar-sweetened fruit.
But best of all, plant fruit trees and berries and simply let birds harvest the fruit.
Suet, Mealworms, Dried Crickets, Peanut Butter, and Other High-Fat, High-Protein Foods
Chickadees, bluejays, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and starlings are drawn to suet and other high-fat, high-protein foods of animal origin.
Warblers, wrens, cardinals, and kinglets are drawn to suet and other fatty meats, too.
The thing to remember about feeding wild birds suet, peanut butter, and dried insects is that fatty foods spoil.
It is best to put these out only when outdoor temperatures are below freezing and the birds staying in your yard for the winter need extra energy.
Foods Not to Include in Your Wild Bird Food Mix
There are also some foods that aren’t healthy for backyard birds, that you should leave out of your wild bird food mix.
Bacon and Bacon Drippings
Some birds love suet, and they also love bacon.
The problem with bacon, however, is its salt content, and the sodium nitrite used to cure it. They make bacon too dehydrating for wild birds.
Ground eggshells are a great source of calcium, but they can carry Salmonella bacteria if they have not been cooked.
Tossing your leftovers on the ground may draw the attention of some passing birds, but they will also attract a variety of animals you don’t want around your house.
What about live mealworms?
It is OK (but expensive) to give wild birds mealworms if the mealworms are given healthy, clean food while they are in holding.
Live mealworms are a great source of protein, fat, and B vitamins for backyard birds. Mealworms are the larvae of a flightless insect known as the darkling beetle.
They are a pest of grain storage facilities, but great food for birds.
Mealworms, however, are only as healthy as the diet they get while you are storing them to feed to your birds later. Mealworms come in a bucket.
Take the mealworms out of the package they came in (carefully, since they will try to eat the package), and place them in a bucket to which you have added about an inch of oatmeal or dry cereal. Add a piece of apple or potato for moisture.
Your mealworms will not escape as long as the lip of the bucket is at least 3 inches (8 cm) above their food layer.
Birds that love mealworms, such as bluebirds, will eat this special treat about as fast as you put it out.
Most bird lovers only offer mealworms occasionally because of the cost.
What to Keep in Mind When You Are Making Your Own Bird Food
Making your own bird food is a great way to save money while feeding your backyard birds. Remember, you are just offering wild birds some supplemental nutrition.
As long as they are free to forage wherever they can fly, they will balance their diet with other foods that they need.
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