What you need to know about buying birdseed

Don't Get Stuck Holding the Bag

by Rich Finzer

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Every year, millions of Americans spend literally millions of dollars buying birdseed for their outdoor feeders. Feeding birds is a terrific pastime, and in harsh climates, the seed consumed by the little birds at your feeder might be the difference between life and death. I've enjoyed feeding wild birds for nearly 40 years, but what I don't enjoy is being taken to the cleaners when I buy seed. Not all birdseed varieties are created equal.

During a recent trip to the big red farm supply store (you know the one), I noticed a pallet load of 25-pound sacks of birdseed. The price was $12.99. Funny thing was that the bag was not clear plastic, so I could not see what I was buying. I could, however, read the ingredients. And just like people food, the ingredients listed on a bag of seed are listed in order by their weight. On the bag in question, the top two ingredients were cracked wheat and milo. So what's wrong with that? Plenty!

For starters, wheat is not an attractive food source to most wild birds. I don't know what it tastes like to them, but judging by how much of it gets picked out of the feeder and discarded on the ground, it must appeal to birds the same way kale appeals to most humans. As an aside, I believe the only reason grocery stores even sell kale is to persuade people to buy something else. However, if it's all that's available, birds will eventually eat wheat. They will not, however, eat milo. So what exactly is milo? Good question.

Milo seeds are reddish brown little orbs about the same size as a BB. And they were put in that 25-pound bag just for their weight. The good stuff like sunflower and safflower seeds and the white millet were printed much farther down on the ingredient list. That's why the bag was not clear plastic. No one would have bought one. But please don't think that just because birds will not eat milo, that other critters won't. What will eat milo with relish (or ketchup) are field mice or rats. Where large crops of grain are raised, field rats are an unfortunate reality. Now, if you don't mind attracting mice and rats to your property, go ahead and buy inexpensive seed mixes with plenty of milo. You'll save quite a bit of money. And you can use those savings to buy mousetraps.

Here's another thing to keep in mind when you're buying birdseed. Pay no attention to the pictures of the birds on the bags. The 25-pound bags I mentioned earlier featured a likeness of a Rufus Sided Towhee and an Eastern Bluebird. Both are insect eaters. So unless you intend to stock your feeder with grubs and centipedes, they won't come around anyway. The pictures were there because those two species have very distinctive plumage. Remember that what's in the bag is heaps more important than what is on the bag.

So what kind of seed did I buy? I bought a 10-pound clear plastic bag of birdseed containing white millet, safflower seeds, cracked corn and peanuts. The price was $9.99. That's right. I bought 60 percent less seed and paid nearly the same amount of money. The difference is that birds will eat 100 percent of it. Think of it this way; buying seed mixes with wheat and milo is the same thing as not buying any seed at all.

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