3 Types of Seeds and Feeders Birds Love Best

Maximize the traffic in your backyard with popular seed and feeders that keep birds coming back for more. Learn what birds eat sunflower, safflower and nyjer seed.

If you’ve just started trying to attract birds to your backyard, you may be unsure about what kind of birdseed you should pick, and what type of bird feeder to use. Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered with three most common birdseed types and the three most popular bird feeder styles. Here’s what you need to know.

titmouse eating sunflower seedCourtesy Brian Hendrix
Tufted titmouse eating sunflower seed.

Birds That Eat Sunflower Seed

This food deserves the No. 1 spot in your yard! Sunflower seeds, both in the shell and out-of-shell meats appeal to finches, chickadees, nuthatches, grosbeaks, Northern cardinals, blue jays and even some woodpeckers. Because sunflower seeds attract many species, including some large undesirable birds and squirrels, they’re best served in tube feeders that allow only small songbirds to perch on or enter the feeding chamber.

cardinal eating safflower seedChris Alcock/Shutterstock
Cardinal eating safflower seed

Birds That Eat Safflower Seed

Safflower is a thistle-like annual with bright orange and yellow flowers that’s grown to make cooking oils. The seeds, which are high in protein and fat, are slightly smaller than sunflower seeds. A hard white shell protects the meat and has a slightly bitter flavor. That’s why fewer birds like the seed. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And squirrels don’t like safflower seed, either. Serve safflower seed in a hopper feeder or a platform feeder for Northern cardinals, grosbeaks and house finches to devour. Or sprinkle some on the ground for mourning doves to find, too.

goldfinch eating nyjer seedCourtesy Susan Ferency
American Goldfinch eating nyjer seed.

Birds That Eat Thistle Seed

Lure American goldfinches, pine siskins, dark-eyed juncos and chickadees with nyjer, a tiny black seed that is sometimes called thistle. Nyjer seeds come from the African yellow daisy. They have a good mix of protein, fat and fiber, so they’re a good high-calorie option for winter birds. Bonus! Bully birds like grackles, starlings and blackbirds tend to leave nyjer seed alone. Make sure the seed stays dry, and replace uneaten food every few weeks. Serve nyjer seed in a tube or mesh feeder hung away from other feeders, so tiny birds can feed without disruption from larger species like blue jays. Here’s how to choose a nyjer feeder for finches.

Now that you’ve picked the birdseed, it’s time to pick the right bird feeder!
purple finch at a tray feederCourtesy Rosemarie Pace
Purple finch on a tray feeder

Tray Bird Feeder

Flat or hanging platform feeders attract a variety of seed-eaters. Look for one with mesh or holes on the bottom to allow rain or snow drainage. This helps prevent mold and keeps the seed from spoiling. Check out the best bird feeders and birdseed for cardinals.

rose-breasted grosbeak at a tube feederCourtesy Deborah Buckley
Rose-breasted grosbeak at a tube feeder

Tube Bird Feeder

These popular feeders are shaped like cylinders with mesh or plastic-coated wire screens. Some are made of solid plastic with multiple small openings and perches. Tube feeders are great for small birds, such as finches, chickadees and nuthatches. Try these tips for squirrel-proof bird feeders.

cardinal at a hopper feederCourtesy Stephanie Schick
Cardinal at a hopper feeder

Hopper Bird Feeder

These feeders have an enclosed reservoir for seeds, kind of like a little house. Food slides down to the open feeding tray below. A big advantage is the seed stays dry when it rains! Woodpeckers, grosbeaks and blue jays frequent hopper feeders. Looking for more ideas? Check out the 10 types bird feeders you need in your backyard.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her backyard gardens. She also is an avid bird-watcher.