Backyard Birding

Feeding Preferences

The following table lists South Dakota species that might be expected to show up at a home feeder.  Ok, if you live in downtown Sioux Falls, don't expect a Ring-necked pheasant to saunter up and start munching on your feeder offerings!  However, the species listed below will visit feeders if given the right conditions.

Note that while I've listed 10 common offerings, the method of offering may affect whether you will be able to attract your target species.  While some species can't feed on sunflower seeds in a tube feeder, they may readily come to a tray feeder with sunflower seeds.  If you're having trouble attracting species you know are in your area, perhaps you should try a different method of presentation.

Items marked with an "XX" are a species preferred food(s), while those with an "oo" are items that are accepted but not preferred.  Click on the item name for information about that item.  Click on the species name (if link is active) to take you to that individual species' web page on this site.  Information on how the table was created is given on the bottom of this page.

Species Mixed / Millet Niger Sunflower Safflower Cracked Corn Suet Baked Goods Nuts Fruit Nectar
Ring-necked Pheasant - - - - XX - - - - -
Rock Dove XX oo - - XX - - - - -
Mourning Dove XX oo XX oo XX - - oo - -
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - - - - - - - - - XX
Lewis's Woodpecker - - - - - XX - - oo -
Red-headed Woodpecker oo - XX - oo XX oo oo oo -
Red-bellied Woodpecker oo - XX oo oo oo - XX oo oo
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - - oo - - oo oo oo XX XX
Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers oo - XX oo oo XX oo oo oo oo
Pileated Woodpecker - - oo - - oo - XX -
Northern Flicker - - - - oo XX oo oo oo oo
Species Mixed / Millet Niger Sunflower Safflower Cracked Corn Suet Baked Goods Nuts Fruit Nectar
Northern Shrike - - - - - XX - - - -
Gray Jay - - XX - oo oo oo oo oo -
Blue Jay oo - XX oo oo XX - XX - -
Clark's Nutcracker - - XX - - - - oo - -
Black-capped Chickadee oo oo XX oo - oo oo oo - oo
Red-breasted Nuthatch - - XX oo - XX oo XX - oo
White-breasted Nuthatch oo - XX oo oo XX oo XX - oo
Brown Creeper - - - - - XX - oo - -
American Robin - - - - - oo XX oo XX oo
Gray Catbird oo - - - oo oo XX XX oo oo

Northern Mockingbird

- - - - - oo XX - XX -
Species Mixed / Millet Niger Sunflower Safflower Cracked Corn Suet Baked Goods Nuts Fruit Nectar
European Starling oo oo - - oo XX XX oo oo -
Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings - - - - - - - - XX -
Orange-crowned Warbler - - - - - oo XX - - -
Yellow-rumped Warbler - - - - - XX oo - - -
Scarlet Tanager - - - - - - oo - XX XX
Western Tanager - - - - - - oo - XX XX
Spotted and Eastern Towhee oo - oo - oo XX - - - -
American Tree Sparrow XX oo oo oo oo - oo - - -
Chipping Sparrow XX oo oo oo oo - oo - - -
Song Sparrow XX oo oo - oo - oo oo - oo
Harris's Sparrow XX oo oo oo - XX oo - - -
Species Mixed / Millet Niger Sunflower Safflower Cracked Corn Suet Baked Goods Nuts Fruit Nectar
Dark-eyed Junco XX oo oo - oo oo XX XX - oo
Northern Cardinal oo - XX XX oo oo oo oo oo oo
Rose-breasted Grosbeak oo oo XX oo - oo oo - XX oo
Black-headed Grosbeak oo - XX - oo oo oo - XX oo
Indigo Bunting oo XX oo - - - - - oo -
Red-winged Blackbird oo XX XX - oo - XX oo - -
Common Grackle oo - XX - XX oo oo oo - oo
Brown-headed Cowbird XX - oo XX - - - - - -
Baltimore and Bullock's Orioles oo - - - oo oo XX oo XX XX
Purple Finch XX XX XX oo oo oo oo oo - oo
Species Mixed / Millet Niger Sunflower Safflower Cracked Corn Suet Baked Goods Nuts Fruit Nectar
House Finch XX XX XX - - oo oo oo oo oo
Red Crossbill oo oo XX - - - - - - -
Common Redpoll XX XX XX - - oo oo - - -
Pine Siskin XX XX XX - oo oo - oo - oo
American Goldfinch oo XX XX oo - oo - oo - oo
Evening Grosbeak - - XX - - oo - XX - -
House Sparrow XX - oo - XX - XX oo - -


Black oil sunflower seed is one of the most attractive seeds to many birds for 3 reasons:

bulletHigh meat-to-shell ratio bulletNutritious and high in fat bulletThe small size and thin shells make them easy for small birds to handle and crack.

The striped sunflower seed is larger and has a thicker seed coat, making it less appealing to birds. It is also less cost-effective for the consumer, as it won't last as long as a similar weight of black oil sunflower.  Sunflower seed shells that collect under a feeder will eventually kill a lawn's grass, something to keep in mind when considering feeder placement.

Cracked Corn is a favorite seed of many birds, and one of the most cost-effective.  Cracked corn also has the advantage of not leaving any shell or other residue behind once it is consumed.  The only disadvantage is that you may attract a lot of pigeons and house sparrows since they love cracked corn. If this is a problem that occurs, feed only sunflower seeds until the pigeons and house sparrows have found a new place to feed. 

Niger seed, sometimes called "thistle seed", is the most expensive seed on the market. It is considered a delicacy for Gold Finches, Siskins, and Redpolls.  Given the high cost of Niger seed, it is usually only placed out in specially designed niger feeders. These feeders have tiny ports which prevent the seeds from spilling out while allowing fine-billed birds to get at them.

Millet comes in red, white, and gold varieties, though white millet is usually preferred over red. Millet is often one of the main components of "mixed birdseed" that is popular with the average consumer.  When considering the use of millet or mixed birdseed, keep in mind that it is extremely popular with house sparrows and pigeons.

Safflower seed is liked by most birds, but it is a favorite of Cardinals. The advantage of Safflower seed is that it has a very limited appeal for Starlings and Sparrows. 

Birds enjoy peanuts and other nuts. These can be provided whole or as broken pieces.  An alternative is to offer peanut butter.  Some species will accept peanut butter spread into the cracks on a tree's bark.  Another alternative is to mix peanut butter with cornmeal or oatmeal.  

Suet will attract some species of birds that won't likely attend feeders for other common offerings.  Plain beef suet from the supermarket meat department is an excellent high energy food and will be readily accepted by a wide variety of birds.  Offer the suet in a wire basket or a plastic mesh bag (the kind that onions come in) tied to a tree. Premade suet cakes are also available in places that sell bird supplies. Please note that suet should only be offered as a winter food as it will quickly go bad in the summer heat.  Rendered suet cakes are also available...these will tolerate temperatures up to 100 degrees without spoiling.

Fruit:  Many birds enjoy dried raisins or currants which have been softened by soaking in warm water, or even sliced fresh fruit. Fruit can be offered on a platform feeder or by driving a series of nails through a board, attaching it to your feeder, and sticking sliced fruit on each nail.

Nectar: If you provide hummingbird feeders, you will need “nectar.” To make nectar, add one part sugar to four parts boiling water (boil the water before measuring, because some water will be lost in the process.) When the mixture is cool, it is ready for use. You can store extra sugar water in your refrigerator for up to one week, but left longer it may become moldy. Adding red food coloring to nectar is unnecessary and possibly harmful to birds. Red portals on the feeder, or even a red ribbon tied on top, will attract the birds just as well.

NOTE: Change nectar every three to five days to prevent mold and deadly fermentation. NEVER use honey as a sweetener. It readily grows mold that can injure hummingbird tongues. Do not put any kind of oil around feeding portals to deter bees; you might contaminate the nectar. If bees or wasps become a problem, try moving the feeder.

Baked Goods: Some birds have adapted particularly well to the spread of humans and their influence.  And just as some of us have a "sweet tooth", some birds enjoy sugary baked goods.  Donuts, rolls, cookie crumbs and other sweets all are attractive to wild birds as a easily available, high-calorie food product.  Baked goods that may taste "unsweet" to us, such as bread cubes and crumbs, are also generally attractive to these same species.



The table above was compiled from about 25 different online and printed bird-feeding charts.  Many of these tables and charts conflict with each other on a species preferred food, or even what food a species might accept.  By using a "convergence of evidence" approach, i.e., basically compiling information from ALL the charts, the table above should hopefully be fairly accurate.  Items listed as favorites ("XX") in the chart above are the items that the highest number of charts listed. Items listed as accepted but not favorites ("oo") are items listed in 2 or more of the charts, but were not the species "favorite" food.  Note not all species nor all food items were listed in all 25 charts, some information for some species may be based on fewer sources of information.






Please mail any comments/suggestions/additional links for this page to: Terry L. Sohl