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Bird Questions Answered – Why Don’t Birds Like My Seed?

An example of a poor quality bird seed blend. Note the oats, milo, and cracked corn

One of the questions I sometimes receive is “Why don’t my birds like my seed?” There can be several possible answers to this question.

The first, and most likely possibility, is that the seed isn’t on the list of seeds that wild birds tend to prefer. Many seed companies will add inexpensive “filler” seeds to the bag that are much cheaper for them to buy and package. While this keeps immediate costs (and prices) down for consumers, most birds will toss the unwanted seed aside while looking for the good stuff. Thus, much of the “cheaper” seed ends up rotting on the ground or gets eaten by squirrels, mice, or other critters looking for an easy meal. As a buyer of wild bird food, it is best to stay away from seed blends that contain milo or any of the typical grains including wheat and cracked corn if you are trying to attract songbirds to your feeding station. If you do choose to buy a seed blend, purchasing a better (more expensive) blend usually ends up being more economical when you compare the amount eaten vs. the amount purchased.

The second possibility for feeder avoidance is that the seed is old or weathered. Seed can go stale and become moldy over time if not kept in a cool, dry container. Sitting in our feeders, seed is exposed to heat and moisture even when it doesn’t rain. The natural moisture content of the seed can evaporate out of the shells and condense on the insides of hopper and tube feeders creating a suitable environment for some molds to grow. Thus, if your backyard birds seem to be turning their beaks up at your feeders, check your seed for freshness and throw away old, uneaten seed if it appears moldy or damp. One way to prevent this is by only filling our feeders part way and filling more often. By doing this, we can provide just enough seed, so that the birds will finish everything off in a few days and not allow seed to go stale inside a feeder.

If your finches stop visiting your Nijer Thistle feeders, one possibility is that the seed was over heated at the packaging plant causing the edible portion to be dried, burnt, and unappealing. Nijer Thistle is considered to be a noxious weed in this country, so all seed of this type must be rendered inert by heating the seed to kill the germplasm (the part that turns into a seedling). Unfortunately, sometimes the manufacturers heat the seed too much and toast the seed itself. You should only purchase thistle seed that is a nice black or deep brown color. This is fresh seed. If your much of your thistle seed is light brown, then those seeds have been overheated and will not get eaten.

Lastly, consider cleaning your feeder about once a month as well as clean up the area where seed hulls fall to the ground. This will help reduce possible spread of disease and keep your birds from picking through the refuse to find the good seed. Birds are just like any other creature: if they have to spend too much time looking for the good stuff, they’ll just go look somewhere else.

By following these simple guidelines, our birds will always visit our feeders and enjoy a good meal!

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