Gardening: What’s on the birdseed menu in 2018

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

One of the secrets to success for feeding birds in winter is choosing the right foods.

Black-oil sunflower seed is the hamburger of the bird world, says Bill Thompson III, publisher of Watching Backyard Birds — almost any bird will eat it. The skins are thin and easier to crack than the striped sunflower seed and the kernels have a higher fat content. However, the larger striped sunflower seed may be preferred by cardinals, blue jays and other big-billed birds. But to attract the widest variety of birds, stick with the black-oil sunflower seeds.

If you want to avoid the mess of sunflower hulls, choose hulled sunflower seeds, aka sunflower hearts.

Dry roasted, unshelled and unsalted peanuts attract nuthatches, chickadees and titmice along with cardinals and finches. Specialized feeders to serve up these tasty treats are available.

In winter, suet is an excellent source of energy for birds and these blocks of animal fats mixed with birdseed are inexpensive and readily available. Special suet holders are also cheap and easy to fill, but you can also break up the suet blocks and drop them into plastic mesh onion bags that can be hung in trees and bushes.

Mixed seed is another option but be sure to choose quality seed. Cheap seed usually contains fillers such as dyed seed, wheat and milo that our wild birds don’t eat. Quality mixes contain black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, white proso millet and/or peanut chips. Sunflower hearts and dried fruit may be part of the mix. Just as you check the ingredients on food you buy for yourself, read the labels.

Freeze-dried mealworms are a hot item with bluebirds, but Thompson warns not to make them a mainstay of their diet.

Sliced fruit, including oranges and apples nailed to a board, is another treat birds love.

Birds also love peanut butter, so pine cones slathered with the sticky stuff and rolled in chopped fruit make great deserts for our feathered friends.

If you’re a bird lover, you’ll want a subscription to the Watching Backyard Birds magazine (, from the publishers of Bird Watchers Digest. North America’s only print magazine devoted exclusively to backyard birds, WBB is published six times a year at the bargain price of $16 and includes a free digital edition. Their interactive website features more articles, photos and an active Q and A to answer all your questions. You can email your bird pix for identification.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.