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Bird Questions Answered - To Millet or Not to Millet

White-crowned Sparrow

What is millet? White Proso Millet is a small whitish to yellowish seed that used to be the type of seed that was simply called "bird seed" by the public. Lately, it seems to have gotten a bad reputation as a seed that should be avoided; a so-called "filler seed" that birds reject and only attracts rodents.

Actually, neither is totally true. In fact, millet can be used to attract an entirely new family of birds to our winter feeders: new world sparrows.

Even though millet is not generally appealing to birds that perch while feeding, ground feeding birds (especially from the sparrow family) enjoy millet and seem to prefer it over other types. The problem is that in Northwest Arkansas, with the exception of House Sparrows, there are very few sparrows that come to our feeders during the spring, summer, and early fall. Most sparrows are northern breeders and only winter in our area. Thus, look for the interesting sparrows in November, December, January, and February.

Sparrows that can often be found here in winter are White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Dark-eyed Juncos, and the beautiful Harris's Sparrow. That's no fewer than 9 kinds of sparrows!

Adding a little millet to your feed during the winter will give you an opportunity to enjoy these little birds and challenge your identification skills as they can have very subtle differences among them. However, as spring approaches, do start to cut back on the millet as these birds will once again head north. Feeding millet in the summer often frustrates people, because they see the seed laying on the ground uneaten, which, yes, can attract rodents. Which is probably why millet has obtained such a bad reputation.

So do add some millet in the winter months and do cut back on it during the summer. This will ensure that you get to enjoy the most birds possible at your feeder, while keeping unwanted critters at bay.

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