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Field Guide for all the Birds of North America

Attracting Birds

Attirer les Oiseaux

Information, images and range maps on over 1,000 birds of North America, including sub-species, vagrants, introduced birds and possibilities

Here is a list and description of some of the more common bird foods and birdseeds for attracting birds into your backyard


Suet is composed of beef fat with other ingredients mixed in, such as birdseeds, peanuts and cornmeal, making it a high-energy food and great for birds in cold weather.

Suet can be prepared in the home by melting down beef fat, which can be purchased cheaply at the local grocery store. Suet cakes are also available commercially as a store bought item. Homemade suet are more likely to break down and become rancid in warmer weather than the store bought. When attracting birds in warmer weather, smaller portions should be put out, as these amounts will be eaten sooner reducing the possibility of spoiling.

The beef fats that are not processed into suet can be offered in attracting birds, the birds will be just as pleased. Put it into an onion sack or wire mesh feeder and they will enjoy it as wholeheartedly as if it was a suet cake.


There are some birds that are not interested in seeds, but attracting birds with fruit is another alternative. Birds such as the sapsuckers, mockingbirds, pileated woodpeckers, tanagers, thrushes, robins,

By putting out pieces of fruit, such as apples, pears, bananas, cherries, oranges or peaches, this will entice these birds to your backyard. Some of these birds are more apt to be seen in spring and summer than others. Fruit seeds such as raisins and currants are a great way to attract birds. It is better to soften the seeds first in warm water then chop them into smaller bite sizes to make them more edible for the birds.

Millet (Panicum miliaceum)

White MilletMillet comes in two types, the red and white varieties. Birds seem to favor the white proso millet over the red millet. This small light colored seed is one of the main ingredients in mixed birdseed in attracting birds. Ground-feeding birds, such as doves, juncos, sparrows, thrashers, Carolina wrens, cardinals and our not so favorites, starlings and house sparrows are the more common birds who have a preference for millet.


Milo is a large, reddish round seed, also called sorghum. When purchasing birdseed, one should watch for too much milo in the birdseed mix, which is regularly used as a filler.

It seems the western birds have more preference for it than the eastern birds, saying that, it is not the preferred choice of birdseed for birds. Attracting birds such as the cardinals, chickadees, jays, juncos, pine grosbeaks and nuthatches not to mention grackles, starlings and cowbirds.

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

Safflower is grown as a crop, its seeds used by early civilization in making dyes and are grown in today's markets for its' oil. Safflower is grown worldwide, surviving in arid regions where other cultivated plants are not able to grow.

Safflower is a light colored, glossy seed that attracts ground birds such as cardinals, sparrows, grosbeaks and doves. Rumor has it, that safflower is not a choice food for grackles, starlings, house sparrows and squirrels. The safflower seeds and sunflower seeds are used in attracting the same type of birds, but the safflower seeds are more expensive to purchase.

Niger(Guizotia abyssinica)

Niger is also known as Nyjer or thistle seed, is imported from Africa, where it grows locally as an annual herb, for its edible oil. To prevent the accidental germination of the seeds in North America, the seeds are first sterilized before being allowed entry into other countries.

Attracting birds such as the Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Boreal Chickadees, Siskins, White-throated Sparrows and Redpolls. Niger is more expensive than other birdseed because it is an import and requires specially made tube-shaped bird feeders, so the seed is not wasted, falling out through openings made for larger birdseeds.

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

The black-oiled-sunflower seeds are grown commercially for their oils which are pressed from the seeds. Margarine is one of the main products

Sunflower seeds are without a doubt, the most popular birdseed among the largest group of bird species. Sunflower seeds come in two types, the smaller variety called the black-oil sunflower seed and the larger variety called the (gray or white) striped sunflower seed.

The smaller black-oiled sunflower seed is the overall favorite because of a weaker outer shell casing, which smaller birds have an easier time removing. The white-striped sunflower seeds were the earlier variety and the most popular seed before the black-oiled sunflower seeds took over. The black-oiled sunflower seed has a higher ratio of meat per seed than the white-striped sunflower seed variety. Attracting birds such as Black-capped Chickadees, Nuthatches, Juncos, Sparrows, Goldfinches, all other finches in general, Grosbeaks, Doves, Cardinals, Woodpeckers and Red-winged Blackbirds, making it the most popular choice of birdseed to offer.

Sunflower Hearts (Helianthus annuus)

The proper name of seeds from sunflowers is called kernels. Dehulled by machines for the purpose of human consumption, either eating the kernels as a whole or by eating foods that

Sunflower hearts and chips (pieces of sunflower hearts) are the most popular birdseed for attracting birds. With sunflower hearts, more birds will be attracted to the bird feeders, even birds that show no interest in sunflower seeds when their shells are on. With sunflower hearts, there are no sunflower seed shell casings to be cleaned up, although comparatively more expensive than the same seeds with shells, because of the time and labour in removing the shell casings.

Sunflower hearts must be protected from the weather and stored in a dry and damp free area. These seeds will mould and decompose, if they are exposed to dampness or water. For these reasons, sunflower hearts must be put into waterproof bird feeders, that will keep them dry or be placed in small quantities on a platform feeder, ground or deck during sunny day's, so that all the seeds are eaten by days end.

These birdseeds are great for attracting birds such as the grosbeaks, juncos, doves, cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, finches, chickadees, but will also attract types of birds, whose weaker bills are unable to remove the shell casings, such as the thrushes, robins and bluebirds, thrashers, catbirds, mockingbirds, sparrows, goldfinches, redpolls, siskins and Carolina wrens.

Mixed Birdseed

Mixed bird seed is a combination of the more common type of birdseeds available on the market. No bag of mixed birdseed will have the same amounts or type of birdseed as another. One must examine the contents of the bags to recognize the type of birdseeds and the different quantities in them. Some mixed birdseed will have more milo and corn, maybe wheat or barley, using these seeds as a filler while others may have higher contents of millet, sunflowers and peanuts.

Mixed birdseed can be put into feeders and depending on the type of birds, may discard the seeds they do not like, making feed for the ground-feeding birds such as doves, sparrows, quails, blackbirds, wild turkeys and others who prefer this type of seed. Mixed birdseed can also be thrown over the ground at the base of the feeders and the ground-feeding birds will find it there.


Peanuts are a common bird food in Europe and has only recently been introduced to birds of North America. Although, whole peanuts with their shell can be offered to birds and accepted by a few species, it is better for the birds and easier for most types, if the shells are removed first. Peanuts and peanut chips make great food for chickadees, nuthatches, jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, creepers, sparrows, wrens and titmice, not to mention blackbirds and crows.

Peanuts, like sunflower hearts, will mold in damp or wet conditions and for this reason must be stored in a dry and damp free area. It requires special bird feeders, that will allow the peanuts to be accessed by the birds and designed to keep the peanuts dry. Again, just like sunflower hearts, must be given to the birds in small amounts in the warmer summer days, so the peanuts are consumed daily and are not left to mold.


Known in other countries as maize, corn is the largest growing crop in North America. There are different varieties of corn, sweet corn is a common food served at the dinner table where as other types are used to feed livestock and grown to produce fuel.

Corn is an all around bird food for a large assortment of birds. Corn birdseed comes in whole kernels or cracked corn (whole kernels broken into smaller pieces). Cracked corn is the better choice of birdseed which will attract smaller birds, who will be more able to consume it. Corn usually comes in a mixed birdseed composed of other mixtures of millet, milo, sunflower and peanuts. Corn is ideal for attracting birds such as sparrows, finches, quail, doves, pheasants and of course blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles and house sparrows.

References to Other Bird Sites:

These are links to websites pertaining to the different birding institutions, societies and organizations here in North America. Some of these same sites are a great asset to seeking out knowledge on birds in other regions of the world. Each of these links offer the user different methods to identify birds, whether it be by regions, habitat, appearance or maybe colour. Knowledge on the possibilities of where and what birds might be present are included.

Hinterland Who's Who Welcome to the Web site for Hinterland Who's Who It all started in 1963, with black-and-white vignettes about the loon, the moose, the gannet and the beaver. For more than 50 years, Hinterland Who’s Who has proudly been bringing Canada’s iconic wildlife directly into Canadians’ homes. Re-launched in 2003, the new series serves to rebuild the connection thousands of viewers made with wildlife through the original series. Welcome to our new website! Have a look around, and learn how you can help ensure that the wildlife remains part of what it means to be Canadian.

Avibase - the world bird database This site provides the user with a complete list of bird species, broken down per country, or in the example of the US or Canada, per state and province. Here, bird species names are available in other languages, a great asset to be used as a translation of foreign bird names.

ABA - American Birding Association This site represents an organization that maintains official records of all birds species that have been proven to have been seen inside the perimeters of the North American Continent and the surrounding bodies of water. Regular revised versions are posted to keep the bird list current at all times. This is the list used by all serious birders over their lifetime. You may be aware of the movie called the "Big Year". It was with this list that all the competing birders used in an attempt to set a new record as to how many bird species that could be seen by an individual birder in one calendar year.

The description to follow is taken from the AOS Home Page.

AOS - The American Ornitholgy Society is an international society devoted to advancing the scientific understanding of birds, enriching ornithology as a profession, and promoting a rigorous scientific basis for the conservation of birds. As one of the world's oldest and largest ornithological societies, AOS produces scientific publications of the highest quality, hosts intellectually engaging and professionally vital meetings, serves ornithologists at every career stage, pursues a global perspective, and informs public policy on all issues important to ornithology and ornithological collections. AOS is distinguished by its tremendous collective expertise, including eminent scientists, conservation practitioners, early career innovators, and students.

ABC - American Bird Conservancy This is an organization started in Europe and is now formed in North America in the 1990's. It bases its goal on four approaches, Halt extinctions, Protect habitat, Eliminate threats and to Build capacity. One of their ways of achieving these goals, is by purchasing and leasing lands around already protected lands and creating larger safe zones for all its habitants.

eBird - TheCornellLab of Ornithology eBird is a must for any individual, who has an interest in birds. This site allows users to sign up and participate in recording birds seen on a daily basis as well as the location, for any bird species seen in the world. In addition, users can use the existing data to search out the location of bird species throughout the year. By using filters, information as to the movements can be determined. Photos can be added to identify individual birds. Migration pattern can be calculated using information by months or years as needed. Range maps can be verified, allowing the users to see where the presence of individual bird species are expected to be at certain times of the year.

NA - National Geographic The Society of National Geographic provides some of the best books available for those who have an interest in birds. The book called "The Complete Birds of North America", is a book recommended to be part of any birders library. This book covers all the native and vagrant species of birds seen on the North American Continent. It provides information on all the birds listed on the ABA bird list. This book goes into great details, describing the individual species and their races. That aside, their website provides wonderful information pertaining to many articles regarding nature.

NAC - National Audubon Society The National Audubon Society is the oldest organization in North America. It was initially formed for the preservation of egrets and herons as well as waders, who were being hunted and killed, so their feathers could be used in the clothing industry. Today, there are many chapters of the NAS all over the continent and all individual groups have a common goal, to educate the public. In doing so, creating awareness of the birds and their plights. They were the driving force in promoting the original international laws, protecting migratory birds. Today, their website has made information available on articles, images and sounds, relating to all the native birds seen in North America.

I hope you will take advantage of these suggested websites. I have used each of them, in one way or another, throughout the years in my quest to better identify and understand our fine feathered friends.

Classic Collection of North American Birds