Feeding Birds

One of the best ways to attract birds to your yard is to give them food.   Choosing the right type of food is important as there are several different options available depending on the types of birds you want to attract.  Because the availability of natural food sources changes throughout the year, supplementing a bird’s diet can be beneficial to them while providing an opportunity for you to enjoy them too. 

Black Oil Sunflower

1024px-Sunflower_seeds._img_005 - Copy - CopyBlack oil sunflower seeds are the most versatile food type available as it will attract the greatest diversity of birds.  Sunflower seeds can be offered in a variety of ways including a tube feeder, tray feeder, or hopper style feeder.

Bird Species:  Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, blackbirds, finches, Mourning Doves
Pros: Almost everything will eat it.  Relatively inexpensive.   
Cons:  Almost everything will eat it.  Squirrels and other mammals might try to raid your feeder.
Season: Year-round


safflower2 - CopySafflower seeds are a good choice because they can attract a good number of bird species.  This seed can be offered in the same types of feeders as you would for sunflower seeds.  Safflower can   

Bird Species: Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, House Finch, Tufted Titmouse
Pros:  Squirrels leave it alone.
Cons:  Cost more than sunflower seeds. 
Season: Year-round

White Millet

Painted Bunting female on the feeder 20091008-082554 - Copy - CopyWhite millet is the go-to seed for Painted Buntings.  It can be mixed with other seeds or left by itself, and put into a tube feeder, tray feeder, or hopper stye feeder.  Keeping a dedicated feeder with white millet will reduce competition with other species and ensure that Painted Bunting can feed undisturbed.    

Bird Species:  Painted Bunting, Chipping Sparrow, Carolina Chickadee, House Finch, Mourning Doves.
Pros:  Painted Buntings!  Squirrels won’t mess with it.   
Cons: Limited number of species use it.
Season: Year-round    

Nyjer Seed/Thistle

nyjer2 - CopyNyjer (or thistle) seed is a special seed designed for finches.  On Kiawah Island, American Goldfinches are probably the only species that would be attracted to it.  Niger seed is used in either a tube feeder or a sock feeder.  Often you can buy it already in a sock style feeder.     

Bird Species:  American Goldfinch, Pine Siskin
Pros: Squirrel won’t touch it.  
Cons: Very expensive.  Short shelf life.
Season: Winter

Wildbird Seed Mixes

These are generally a mix of several different types of bird seed including sunflower seeds, millet, corn, and other grains.  Many seed mixes contain a lot of “filler” ingredients that birds don’t especially like.  The birds will pick through the mix for good stuff and disregard the rest which usually ends up on the ground.       

Bird Species: Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, blackbirds, finches, Mourning Doves
Pros:  Can attract a wide variety of birds.  Generally, the cheapest seed available.
Cons:  Lots of waste.
Season: Year-round 


2048px-Blue_Jay_with_peanut,_December_2010 - Copy - CopyPeanuts are a high-energy food and are enjoyed by a wide variety of birds such as woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, jays and more. Peanuts are a specialized type of bird food and can be purchased shelled or unshelled.  It is important that if you feed peanuts to birds that they are raw and unsalted or otherwise not designed for human tastes. 

Bird Species:  Downy Woodpecker, Reb-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch. 
Pros: high-energy choice for birds during cold weather.
Cons: Can get moldy if not eaten quickly. 
Season: Year-round


Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2006_07_15_182436 - CopyHummingbirds can be easily attracted to your yard by putting out a nectar feeder.  There are many different hummingbird feeders available, but the best ones are often the simplest ones.  Choose a hummingbird feeder that is not too large and easy to clean.  Store bought hummingbird nectar often contains dyes and preservatives which may not be good for the birds.  The cheapest and easiest is to make your own hummingbird nectar by thoroughly mixing 1 part refined white sugar with 4 parts water.  Large batches can be made up and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Because sugar water can spoil quickly, it is recommended that the feeder be changed and cleaned every few days during hot weather (spring-fall) and once a week in the cooler months (winter).  Regular cleaning will keep mold from growing in the feeder.

More and more hummingbirds are spending the winter in South Carolina including western species such as Rufous and Black-chinned Hummingbirds so you can maintain your hummingbird feeders all year long.      

Bird species: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, woodpeckers, Baltimore Oriole
Pros: Easy to make homemade nectar. Inexpensive.
Cons:  Requires regular maintenance.
Season: Year-round


Red_Bellied_Woodpecker_Eating_an_Orange_with_Jelly_(5776778980) - CopyJelly and fruit can attract a variety of different species to your yard including some that you may not regularly see.  There are special feeders out there that contain small jars or dishes to hold jelly and others with spikes that hold orange halves.  South Carolina has the largest wintering population of Baltimore Orioles in the US according to recent surveys.  Some homes in the Charleston area can host up to 30-40 orioles each winter.  Grape jelly seems to be the preferred flavor especially with orioles. 

Bird species:  Baltimore Oriole, Gray Catbird, American Robins, warblers, tanagers, woodpeckers.
Pros: High energy food that can help birds especially in cold weather.
Cons: Can attract insects.  Requires regular maintenance to prevent mold and spoilage.
Season: fall, winter, spring   


suet - CopySuet is a high energy food that can attract a variety of birds especially in the cooler months.  A special caged suet feeder is needed to protect the suet from unwanted critters such as raccoons and squirrels.  Suet can be purchased in preformed “cakes”, or it can be made at home.  There are a lot of recipes available online if you are inclined to make your own.       

Bird species:  Woodpeckers, Baltimore Oriole, warblers, tanagers.
Pros: Cheap.  High in fat and protein.
Cons: May not get eaten unless it’s cold
Season: fall, winter


Mealworms provide balance of protein, fat, and fiber to a bird’s diet.  They can be served dried or live.  Dried mealworms are much easier to work with as you don’t have to care for them as you would for live mealworms.  Mealworms can be placed in a tray style bird feeder or a dish/jar similar to a jelly feeder.

Bird species:  Eastern Bluebird, most birds
Pros: Nutritious. Dried mealworms can last a long time with proper storage.
Cons: Expensive.
Season: Year-round 


Tube Feeders

PABU - CopyTube feeders come in a wide variety of sizes and styles.  Depending on the size, a regular tube feeder normally will have 2-8 feeding ports each with a small perch. The feeding ports may be large or have very small openings depending on the type of seed.  For all seed types except Nyjer, a tube feeder with a large opening is preferred.  Nyjer seeds are very small and require very small feeding port openings. 

Some tube feeders can be purchased with a cage around them.  This cage prevents larger and sometimes unwanted birds such as blackbirds from getting access to the seed.  The cage also provides some protection from predators while birds are feeding.  If you are having issues with squirrels or raccoons raiding your feeders, there are several “squirrel proof” tube feeders available.  Squirrels are intelligent creatures and can sometimes out smart the squirrel proof designs but they still drastically reduce the amount of seed that is consumed by the fury critters.

Platform/Tray Feeders

Platform feeders are simple and very easy to use.  They generally consist of a square or rectangular frame around a flat piece of wire mesh.  The seed is spread out inside the frame.  Platform feeders can be hung from above or mounted on top of a pole either low to the ground or higher up.  Platform feeders offer the opportunity to feed birds that are not able to eat from a tube feeder.  Birds that typically feed on the ground like Mourning Doves, juncos, and sparrows can be attracted to platform feeders.  Other larger species like Blue Jays, Northern Mockingbirds, blackbirds, grosbeaks, tanagers, and finches will readily eat from a platform feeder.  Platform feeders allow birds easy access to the seed but it also makes the seed available to other animals such as squirrels, raccoons, deer, and rodents. 

Hopper Feeders

Hopper feeders come in a wide variety of styles but all work in a similar fashion.  The “hopper” is filled with seed and it spills out onto a tray underneath.  As the birds eat the seed in the tray, seed from the hopper is released by gravity.  Hopper feeders can take a wide variety of seeds and depending on the size of the feeder could accommodate small and larges birds. 


Feeding birds comes with some responsibility.  Feeders need to be maintained regularly to keep birds healthy.  It is recommended that feeders be cleaned every 2-3 weeks to reduce the chance of birds getting sick from moldy seed or transmitting diseases to other birds.  Feeder can be soaked in a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach.  Rinse the feeders thoroughly and let them completely dry before putting them back out for the birds.  If you suspect a disease outbreak or see sick birds, remove your feeders immediately and clean them thoroughly.  Wait at least two weeks before putting them back up again.