Bird Feeding Primer

Bird Food

The best all-around bird seed is black oil sunflower seed. Large bags can be purchased at many supermarkets and pet supply stores. The birds eat the seeds inside and drop the shells on the ground so there is a fair amount of waste. Some of these seeds may sprout in the spring. You can also buy this food in the form of sunflower chips, which are shelled seeds. The chips are more expensive, but will attract more birds and there is no waste. It will attract chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and all other birds. When these chips fall to the ground they do not sprout, and it will be eaten by ground feeders like sparrows or doves.

It may be tempting to buy the cheap bird food at the supermarket, but this is not a good option. This food often has a lot of cheap filler seeds in it that most birds won’t eat (and that is not as nutritious for the birds). It usually has a lot of red millet which House Sparrows love, but no other birds eat. Many of the cheaper seeds will sprout and come up in your yard in the spring. It is more economical in the long run, and better for the birds, to buy high-quality bird-feeding supplies.

Niger seed, either by itself or mixed with little chips of sunflower seeds (often called Finch Feast) is another good choice. Finches like redpolls, House Finches, Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches love this. It also will not sprout.

Suet cakes, usually contained in a wire cage, are good for many birds to provide a high-energy meal. Woodpeckers and nuthatches love suet, but it should not be offered in the summer months as it goes rancid in hot temperatures.

Shelled nuts are great for many birds too. You can purchase a metal peanut feeder to hang in a tree, which attracts woodpeckers, flickers, nuthatches and chickadees. You can also use a squirrel-proof feeder (the simple steel tube feeder with big holes works well). Squirrels will absolutely destroy any wooden or plastic feeder to get at the seeds, and if the nuts are on a tray or otherwise accessible, squirrels, magpies and jays haul them away in no time.

Some birds (sparrows, doves) prefer to feed on the ground or on an open hanging tray, so spreading a bunch of niger seed, sunflower chips, and a few nuts on the ground is a good idea.

There are two stores in Calgary which sell good high-quality seeds: The Wild Bird Store on MacLeod Trail and Heritage Drive SE, and The Fairplay Store on Kensington Road just west of Crowchild Trail NW.

Examples of Bird Feeders

Crossbills at sunflower chips

Crossbills at sunflower chips

House finch, pine siskins at nijer feeder

House Finch, Pine Siskins at nijer feeder

Northern flicker at peanut feeder

Northern Flicker at peanut feeder


Downy Woodpecker at suet feeder


Blackbirds at black oil sunflowers


During the summer months it may be possible to attract hummingbirds to your yard. You can use packaged hummingbird nectar or a sugar water recipe (the correct ratio is 1 part white sugar dissolved in 4 parts boiling water, allow to cool and store any excess in the refrigerator). Don’t use honey, raw sugar or brown sugar in your feeder. Hummingbirds can’t digest it as well. Fermentation & mold growth also occurs faster in solutions made from things other than white granulated sugar or packaged nectar mix. Do not use artificial sweeteners. Red dye or food colouring is completely unnecessary.

i-Zg2ptSJ-MDeter bees and wasps by using a “flat top” or “top feeding” style hummingbird feeder where the nectar is not sitting at the feeding port. The hummers can reach the nectar but bees and wasps cannot. Keeping the feeder clean of spills and drips will also help. Avoid putting out feeders whose feeding ports have yellow centres – yellow is the colour that bees and wasps associate with food!

Clean your feeder every 2 –3 days in warm weather. In cooler weather you may be able to go as long as one week. Every time you change or refill your feeder, wash it with dishsoap and water and rinse well. At least once a month, disinfect your hummingbird feeder thoroughly with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Soak your feeder in this solution for one hour, and then clean with a bottlebrush. Rinse well with running water and refill. Bleach is both safe and very effective.

Hummingbirds are extremely loyal to feeding sites. A hummingbird that feeds in your yard one year will return to that feeder the next. The key to successful hummingbird attraction is to keep the feeder clean and the nectar fresh. If you see hummers flying around your feeders but not feeding it’s a sure sign that something isn’t clean and fresh. Fermented nectar can support the growth of deadly molds. If a hummingbird gets a taste of fermented nectar from your feeder it will look elsewhere for a drink and remain suspicious of the offending feeder for a long time.

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