With bird-feed prices soaring, how do we stock the best bird buffet? Can we pick the cheapest seed mix and still feed birds the nutrition they need to survive?
When temperatures plummeted recently, birds changed diets. Did you notice? Shelled peanuts vanished in a blink; black-oil sunflower seeds gained renewed interest; sunflower hearts took top spot. And for good reason: To stay warm, birds need plenty of fat and ample protein. Peanuts and sunflower seeds are packed with both.
Of course, these are also the priciest seeds. So why not choose an inexpensive mixture of, say, milo, red millet, cracked corn, and other grain products? Three reasons:
· Second, cracked corn is attractive to many undesirable backyard birds, notably starlings and house sparrows. To offer it is to attract them; and they, in turn, will crowd out native birds.
· Third, the term “grain products” refers to things like chaff and dust. Think “floor sweepings.”
Thus, as a result of the fillers and floor sweepings, the mixture offers little food value for birds. In fact, it contains almost no protein and only miniscule fat.
How do you know? Read the label. Just as we read our own food labels at the grocery, we must read birdfeed labels as well. By law, every birdfeed bag must list ingredients, in descending order by content. But more importantly, every label must also list the percents of protein, fat, and fiber. Look for high levels of fat and protein and low levels of fiber.
The Wild Bird Feeding Industry posts these values, based on half-cup volumes:
· Peanuts: 73% fat; 16% protein
· Thistle: 71% fat; 18% protein
· Black-oil sunflower: 68% fat; 14% protein
· Corn: 11% fat; 7% protein
· White millet: 9% fat; 11% protein
Since different birds prefer different seeds, and since birds like dietary variety, offering several high-fat, high-protein seeds provides the best nutrition. Some commercial blends meet the standard; others fail miserably. Compare labels.
Suet labels are equally telling. Fillers like millet and cracked corn simply take up volume, reducing the amount of suet (fat) you’re offering birds. Pure suet cakes provide the best nutritional value for your dollar.
Finally, check labels for “inert matter,” meaning non-food ingredients—never a good return for your dollar. When prices soar, packagers look for means to increase profit. Inert matter fills their bill—but not the birds’ bills. Any product less than 95% pure must be so labeled.