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I'd like to know what kind of bird seed would be good for the birds in the Houston area without attracting pests or creating a harmful environment for my garden.

I've tried going to the local pet store, but they usually have very specialized bird seed for pets, rather then for wild birds. Other research has indicated that many packaged bird seed will include fillers which are harmful to the environment and the birds by becoming bacteria factories.

I don't really have a preference about which birds I attract. I don't know which birds are good or bad, but I'd just like to have more of them around. Omnivorous birds that also eat the skeeters would be nice.

It seems sunflower seeds will work for a wide variety of birds, but will also attract squirrels, which will take all the seeds and leave none for the birds. What solutions do I have?

  • Is there something you would like me to add to my answer? – J. Musser Feb 11 '15 at 16:13
  • nah, just dealing with house sparrows now – ton.yeung Feb 11 '15 at 18:21
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Squirrels will eat just about any kind of bird seed. However, they don't prefer safflower seed. From here:

Are squirrels driving you nuts? Do blackbirds and grackles crowd your feeder chasing away the birds you want to see?

If so, you can try the safflower solution! Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds - including jays, cardinals, chickadees, House Finches, doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches - savor safflower. Blackbirds, grackles and squirrels typically do not.

They avoid safflower seeds, but these are expensive, and squirrels will eat it too, if they are hungry enough. This doesn't work for everyone, and if you have red squirrels, it may not work at all. What I would do is use mess-free food, and use squirrel-proof feeders.

I would use a hulled mix. This is basically the same as other seed, but doesn't have the seed hulls, so it's about 100% digestible. Other pluses: It doesn't start growing if it lands in a garden or lawn, and the birds don't leave the hulls all over the ground, as they will especially with sunflower seeds. About fillers, you should read the ingredient list. Here's an example of one that I might use. The ingredient list reads:

Hulled sunflower, millet, cracked corn, peanuts, red millet, canary seed, calcium carbonate.

Now all of these seeds will attract squirrels, so you may have to look into a caged-in squirrel-proof feeder like this, even though that may limit the size of the birds you can feed.

  • Given no other option, the sqirrels here (who also happily eat hot pepper-treated seed, BTW) will eat safflower. And for a double-negative impact, the birds (chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals etc.) don't like it as well and make huge mess hoping to find some good seed (they drop a lot of it, make more of a mess than with sunflower hearts.) Bogus ad copy strikes again, just like with pepper and squirrels. Squirrel-proof feeders are another war we may not win, as the squirrels generally figure out a way to get seed out, even if the designer didn't think of it. – Ecnerwal Oct 24 '14 at 1:28
  • @Ecnerwal I find that the seed mix I've mentioned doesn't make much mess at all, when used in the feeder I've linked to in my answer, and they eat millet and cracked corn fine. Also, 18 reviews that are all 5 stars is pretty decent. – J. Musser Oct 24 '14 at 3:01
  • Isn't millet a filler? hulled seeds will also get rotten pretty fast in the Houston heat/humidity. +1 for separate squirrel feeder, though. – ton.yeung Oct 24 '14 at 3:54
  • @ton.yeung Hmm, birds at my place consider it a food source, but it could be a filler. It doesn't cost much. – J. Musser Oct 24 '14 at 9:51
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I'm extremely doubtful that there is ANY food source for birds (other than sugar-water for hummingbirds, so far anyway) that squirrels won't adapt to exploiting. You can have a fine old time trying to squirrel-proof your feeder, and then step back and see what the squirrels think up to bypass it. If you can move past being irritated by it you can be impressed by what the little demons think up. I have heard good things about but not personally tried this latest entry (that I recall anyway) in the war, which spins the feeder to kick them off; at least until the batteries wear down.

IMPE millet is a filler that most birds don't eat, they just toss it on the ground as they dig for a seed they want, and if you fill a feeder with nothing but millet it will sit there untouched once they figure out there's no good stuff in it. Cracked corn is not much better.

If you fill a feeder with nothing but hulled sunflower you'll have customers stacked in every bush or tree for quite a distance around (unhulled also works, but makes much more of a mess.) Some of your customers will be squirrels, though (and possibly flying squirrels at night, who are not affected by most of the "exclude by size" "exclude by weight" and "exclude by not able fly" methods that are attempted against gray and red squirrels.)

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    that's an expensive feeder – ton.yeung Oct 24 '14 at 3:57
  • Yup. I have not bought one and don't really expect I will. – Ecnerwal Oct 25 '14 at 1:21
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Well, maybe my comment lead to an answer after all. After researching bird peppers a little, I found that they sell spicy bird seed (protected by habaneros) to keep squirrels out! I don't think it's made from peppers, but it uses peppers to protect the seed or something.

There's a variety of Texas bird pepper, too. So, I imagine that might attract local birds, if it's native to that area (I think it's the only pepper native to North America, anyway, whether or not from Texas).

Here's an example of the aforementioned bird seed (Cole's BH05 Blazing Hot Blend Bird Seed, 5-Pound on Amazon.com). It specifically states "Say no to squirrels!" on the package. :)

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    Oh, this. My squirrels ate it anyway. Maybe mine are extra voracious or something. – J. Musser Oct 23 '14 at 23:58
  • Yeah. Looking at the reviews, it looks like it works for some people but not others. What kind of squirrels do you have, and where do you live? – Shule Oct 23 '14 at 23:59
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    Southeastern Pennsylvania. I have regular grey squirrels, a few reds, sometimes flying. The greys are the worst here, but the flying ones are a pain, cause, well, they glide. :P – J. Musser Oct 24 '14 at 0:01
  • I'm guessing a sharper pepper than a habanero might be better against squirrels (one that packs a really big punch, but that may or may not last a long time). Habaneros have heat that lasts a really long time, but it's not the sharpest pepper pain, and so the squirrels might not realize it has much to do with the seeds, depending on how their memories work, or they might figure, it still hurts, so why not eat more? – Shule Oct 24 '14 at 0:07
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    bhut jolokia is wicked. It burned me through my hands, and cutting one open set everyone to choking and rubbing their eyes. Squirrels were fine with it, though. – J. Musser Oct 24 '14 at 0:08

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