By Mark Bennett, Wilderness Feeds/Mill Creek Seed Company

For Top Quality bird seed look for the following:

Fresh Ingredients
Freshness is one of the most important factors in defining the value of bird feed. The fresher the ingredients, the more likely the birds will eat all that you put into your bird feeder and less will be wasted.

Clean/Dust Free
Powder created during the processing of the feed can add up to pounds of weight, that you pay for, that is useless as bird feed.

Proper Ingredient Selection
Some seeds, nuts, fruit and minerals are more attractive than others to a greater variety of birds. Therefore, a knowledgeable selection of ingredients for each environment, during each season, will provide you and your birds with maximum value for your bird feeding budget. Fillers like wheat and milo can mask the cost of "Discount" bird feed and will make the actual cost of consumable bird seed sky rocket ! Look for sunflowers, nuts, corn, millets and fruit to attract the most birds.

Seed Maturity
As sunflower seeds mature, the kernels tend to grow proportionally larger than the shell. Additionally, sunflowers tend to have greater kernel weight on different parts of the sunflower face. Proper buying ensures greater kernel density and thus more food for the birds. Ask your supplier if he or she knows how to ensure a high kernel content.

Environmentally & Seasonally Suited Ingredients
Birds are inclined to reside in either the meadow or the woodland. Additionally,different birds frequent different areas during each of the four seasons. Consider the area where you are feeding and try to accommodate those birds with seed that is appropriate to their environment.

Spring/Summer Blends
A good spring and summer blend will include fruit and calcium and should be high in protein. Fruit is attractive to the migratory fruit eating birds and calcium is beneficial to birds for egg production.

Fall/Winter Blends
Grit and energy foods for warmth are attractive ingredients for fall and winter blends. High carbohydrate grains will provide warmth and grit will provide a source that is a better alternative to road salt which is often the only available source of grit in mid winter. This will ensure that the birds' salt intake is minimal and will also reduce the likelihood of them being hit by cars.

Dislike Starlings ?
Hard shelled foods such as sunflowers, peanuts in shell and whole corn tends to be less attractive to starlings. However, starlings are one of the best birds for reducing insects from your lawn, so sometimes you may actually benefit from their presence.

Nuts are nutritionally beneficial to birds and will attract an interesting selection of woodpeckers, blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, etc.

Selecting Wild Bird Feed

Poor quality bird feeds prove to be less economical when they have one or more of the following problems:

A powder like appearance on the surface of bird feed grains will identify mould. Mould generally occurs when the seed is poorly stored, heated and condensed, moistened or contaminated with mould. It is nearly certain that no birds will eat moldy bird seed. Mould will spread through your seed supply rapidly after contamination. Many discounters will sell moldy seed as it is much cheaper but there is always a reason why discount seed costs less to buy.

Powder created during processing creates dust which, if not removed, becomes and expensive by-product that you pay for and the birds reject. Beware, some manufacturers print a band of ink around the bottom and on the face of their bags to hide excessive dust.

Some manufacturers of bird feed will add oil to bird feed to reduce the appearance of dust. The oil sticks to the seeds and the dust sticks to the oily surface thus disguising the dust content. Oils are considered to be nutritionally questionable to the good health of your backyard friends. Oil can be identified by a gray colour in normally white safflower seeds and by an unusually shiny appearance to all seeds. Oils also provide unnecessary weight to each bag of seed so you get less seed per pound.

Wheat/Wheat Screenings
Wheat and wheat screenings are used as a base and/or filler in cheaper bird mixes. Generally, no birds are very attracted to this ingredient and therefore, this portion of the mix is an unnecessary expense. You may get some game birds and pigeons when offering wheat.

Like most food products, insects can be attracted to bird seed. Meal moth is common and can be controlled using special non-toxic traps and cool dry storage. Some manufacturers do not control for insects at all.

Immature, Flat Appearing Sunflowers
There is usually little or no meat inside these immature shells known as ìblanksî. These sunflowers are known as "screenings" in the feed industry. They are very inexpensive to buy and appear deceptively similar to useable seeds. So, if you are offered cheap sunflowers, or mixed seed with sunflowers, be sure to look closely for long and flat shells and you will know that those are useless seeds.

Foreign Objects
In an effort to keep some mixes cheap, it is not unusual to discover non-edible objects in a bag of bird seed such as dirt, sticks and screenings. Occasionally all bird feed will have a stem or leaf but you can inspect clear bagged seed to be sure.

Cracked Corn vs. Cut Corn
Although corn is a good ingredient, cracked corn involves a process that makes the seed dustier and less attractive. Steel cut corn is a better alternative. Cracked corn is identified by its crushed appearance. Steel cut corn assures less likelihood of toxins as well. It should be said that corn is one of the better ingredients for feeding the birds. It is a myth that corn is a filler, but it is less expensive than other good ingredients so go ahead and get the mix with corn. Corn is particularly good in cold climates where high carbohydrates are necessary for heat production.

Frost Damage
Identified by a red colour in sunflower shells, frost damage during the growing season will render sunflowers useless as bird feed. A slight red tinge on the shell is okay but if the red penetrates to the kernel then the grain is spoiled. Thus cheap sunflower seed should be inspected for frost damage.

Consequently any food provided can make a significant contribution to the needs of our feathered friends.

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