Mixology: Breaking Down 5 Common Birdseed Blends

With all the products available these days, sometimes the jargon and claims can get confusing. Here’s a quick primer.
Five piles of assorted bird seed on a white background.
Clockwise from top right: Bird-specific seed blend; high-energy blend; anti-squirrel blend; bird-excluding blend; no-mess blend. Photos: Luke Franke/Audubon

Given that we know most birds like certain seeds much more than others—hello, black oil sunflower—you might wonder why it's worth buying a mix in the first place. Read the marketing copy on a few bags, and you'll get one answer. The right blend of seeds can do just about anything, it'll say: Attract only the birds you want! Leave the ground spotless! And even deter those pesky squirrels! To be clear, the main reason to buy any seed blend is to match your offerings with the preferences of the local birds you want to attract to your feeders. If you want more than that, it’s buyer beware. Here are the five of the most common kinds of specialty mixes you'll come across—and how their claims hold up.

No Mess (above, center) 
High-quality mixes that include only seeds birds love, already removed from their shells. Without shells or filler seeds like red milo (very few species prefer red milo), everything in the mix gets eaten. Thus: no mess. These mixes deliver on their promise and have become increasingly popular with consumers who are willing to spend a little more.

Anti-Squirrel (above, bottom left) 
Seed blends treated with a chili-pepper-based coating that birds don’t mind but that irritates determined squirrels and other feeder-crashing critters. Some products appear to be more effective than others, so check out reviews. Also consider pairing with squirrel baffles or using a squirrel-proof feeder for maximum deterrence—maybe. 

Bird-Excluding (above, top left) 
Blends designed to keep certain birds away, such as a mix heavy on sunflower seeds, which are difficult to open for European Starlings whose beaks are not adapted to cracking them. However, it’s more effective to use different feeder types to exclude birds like starlings, which will happily eat safflower and milo seeds often included in these products.

Bird-Specific (above, top right)  
Mixes that predominantly include ingredients fancied by only one type of bird or a small set of birds. A classic example is a finch blend, which usually includes Nyjer and other fine seed fragments made specifically for the sock and mesh feeders that goldfinches and Pine Siskins prefer to hang from while eating.

High-Energy (above, bottom right) 
Blends that contain lots of nutritious ingredients high in fat or protein, like nuts, insects, and high-oil seeds. These mixes can be marketed as “winter blends,” suggesting they provide birds with a needed boost. Supplemental food may be more valuable in the winter, but there’s little evidence that birds’ preferences change by season.

This piece originally ran in the Spring 2023 issue as "Mixology." To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.