Sunday, January 26, 2020

7 Secrets to feeding wild birds cheaply

Feeding wild birds is a very enjoyable pastime. It takes some time for birds to find feeders at some homes. Others have the opposite problem. Some home owners have so many birds at their feeders that it becomes expensive to keep feeding all of them!

If feeding birds has become too expensive for your budget and you are looking for cheaper alternatives, perhaps you will find help in my recent research that I present here.

How do you feed birds cheaply? I have found 7 ways to feed and attract birds without as much cost. They divide into 2 main categories. The first category is to find inexpensive kitchen scraps that you were going to throw away. The second category asks you to carefully choose bird seed at the bird shop. I also have recommendations for how you feed birds, not just what you feed them.

Photo of White-breasted Nuthatch at bird feeder
White-breasted Nuthatch at feeder
Image by GeorgiaLens from Pixabay

Feed wild birds more cheaply from your kitchen

What can you feed birds besides bird seed? Well, you may be throwing away potential bird food from your kitchen and not even knowing it!

Not all food that people eat is good for birds, but many foods are. Just remember, though, not too much at a time. Too much human food left out can attract raccoons, opossums, bears, rats or other pests. You should only feed birds the amount of kitchen scraps they eat in a single day.

Cheap bird feeding secret #1. Kitchen food scraps that birds can eat

The first thing that probably comes to mind when you think of feeding birds kitchen scraps is bread. Most birds will eat bread, some eagerly so. However, bread, while filling, is not nutritious. Birds who eat a diet high in bread become malnourished. So bread should only be an occasional snack for birds, not a daily routine.

What can you provide instead? You can try cooked rice. Pasta, cooked or raw, is eaten by birds. Break the pasta into more bite-sized pieces. Don't feed birds rice or pasta if it has been salted, or after you have added any sauce to it.

You can save bacon grease until you have enough to make your own suet. Save it in a small tin in the freezer. Add some seeds or nuts to it, or serve it plain. Place it in your suet cage. Bacon grease stays solid in the winter; it melts at 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can also make a suet-like peanut butter snack. Add a spoonful onto the bark of a tree to attract many birds.

Cheap bird feeding secret #2. Damaged fruit

Have you noticed that it's hard to find a store that sells oranges individually? You have to buy a whole net bag. And what do you find? Most of the fruit is not ripe. You put it on your kitchen counter to ripen up for a few days. What happens? It never really gets ripe, but it goes soft on the bottom. Bird food!

Or you buy a cluster of grapes. When you wash them off for your kids you find that some are bruised or split. Rather than grind them up in the garbage disposal or saving them for the recycle pile, save them for the birds!

Bruised or soft fruit can be cut into slices. Then place on a tray feeder or impale them so larger birds like jays or crows don't fly off with them.

In the fall tree fruit often falls to the ground. Wasted. Gather some up and freeze it. Offer it a few slices at a time throughout the winter. Oranges and apples are frequently mentioned as being favorites with birds. But grapes, raisins (soaked overnight in water to make them soft), and bruised bananas are also mentioned as being eaten by birds.

See my article: 10 Fruits you should be feeding backyard birds.

Cheap bird feeding secret #3. The last bite

I know you save table scraps for your dog, don't you? You can save the last bite of certain foods for your wild birds, too!

Apple cores. An orange slice. A couple of raisins. The last bite of your sandwich. A dry piece of bread or cheese. All these items are eaten by birds. Give them a try!

Feed wild birds more cheaply when purchasing from your local bird shop or online

You can save money by making more informed decisions when purchasing bird seed. The lowest price doesn't always mean the best value. If most birds won't eat your bird food, then a low price isn't a good deal, is it?

Cheap bird feeding secret #4. Say "no" to milo in your mixed bird seed

Very few birds eat milo. Milo is a very cheap seed. Up to three-quarters of the seeds in some cheap mixed bird seeds may be milo. Why?

Well, chicken scratch. Milo is fed to chickens, along with cracked corn. It is thus very available to farmers. Chicken scratch makes cheap bird food to sell to unsuspecting customers. Are you fooled into buying the least pricey bag of bird seed to feed wild birds?

Quail, turkeys, and pheasants eat milo. So do Mourning Doves, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and House Sparrows. Other birds? Not so much. Are these the birds you want to attract? Or do you want cardinals, grosbeaks, sparrows, juncos, goldfinches, chickadees, house finches, woodpeckers and more?

Look at the ingredient list of your mixed bird seed. Is milo the first ingredient? One of the first 3 ingredients? Buy another brand. Does the bird seed contain cracked corn? Oats? Wheat? Chicken scratch! You want white proso millet and sunflower seeds. Safflower? Some birds eat it, and most squirrels don't. Pieces of peanuts? Sure. But milo? No!

Look at the seed visible through the clear parts of the plastic bag. How many black oil sunflower seeds can you see? The darker the seed mixture, the more sunflower seeds there are, and the better birds will like it.

See my article on what kind of bird seeds attract the most birds.

Cheap bird feeding secret #5. Fill feeders with only one type of seed

Each species of bird has a food it prefers over all others. If given a choice--such as at your bird feeder filled with a never-ending supply of mixed seed--the birds will pick through the seed looking for their favorite.

What do birds do with their "less favorite" seeds? They throw it out on the ground! That's right, birds toss seeds they don't want out of the feeder in order to find their favorite.

This seed waste may be eaten by other birds on the ground. Most of it will be waste, though, accumulating uneaten under the feeder. Or, worse, it may attract rodent pests, insects, or squirrels.

The secret to saving money on bird seed is to fill each feeder with a different single food item. That way only the birds that like that food will visit that feeder. More of the food goes to birds that like that food, less to waste. You can have a black-oil sunflower seed feeder, suet feeder, millet feeder, thistle feeder with niger seed, hummingbird feeder. Each feeder will attract it's own type of birds. The birds that eat at the feeder will not throw out less desirable seeds on the ground.

Find more details in my article on setting up a bird feeding station.

Cheap bird feeding secret #6. Purchase hulled sunflower seeds in bulk without the shell

An article in Watching Backyard Birds stated that sunflower seeds are 35-40% waste by weight (source). That means that hulled sunflowers, also known as kernels or chips, may not be as expensive as it first appears.

Black oil sunflower seeds on Amazon are $1 to $2 per pound (cheaper if you buy larger quantities).

This 50 pound bag of Wagner's black oil sunflower seed was the lowest price I found on Amazon (check today's price).

The cheapest bulk 50 pound bag of hulled sunflowers I found (EazyGo coarse chips) was about $1.40 per pound on Amazon (check today's price).

What does this mean? At $1 per pound for the whole seeds, and 35% waste, that's 32.5 pounds of edible seed in a 50 pound bag. That's $1.50 per pound for the edible portion. In this case, the coarse hulled sunflower chips are actually less expensive! If you buy smaller quantities it is less favorable. And medium-sized chips were more expensive. But there's no waste or mess with the sunflower chips.

If you have a choice between in-the-shell and chips, at the same weight, it is a better deal to buy the chips even if half again more expensive.

Cheap bird feeding secret #7. Feed only a limited amount of bird food each day

Birds will eat all day at your feeder if you provide food for them--even if they are not really hungry. Note how much they eat from dawn to mid-morning. Only place that amount in your feeder about a half hour before sunset. When they run out they'll go elsewhere. But they'll be back in the morning if you set them up on such a routine.

See my article on how often you should refill your bird feeder.

Don't forget water!

Birds need to drink water every day. They need to bathe and thereby keep their feathers in good repair. Birds will keep coming to your yard for water, even if you are out of bird food. And water is pretty cheap in most places! You don't have to buy an expensive bird bath. Birds will drink and bathe in shallow pans or bowls. I use the little saucers that catch water under ceramic flower pots.

Try some or all of these ideas to see how feeding birds can be done cheaply.



  1. Thank you so much for such an informative piece of information :)
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  2. Very good knowledge- l am obsessed with bird feeing and gardens and l know how time consuming and costly it can be, to take care of our feathered friends etc not only in summer, BUT ESPECIALLY SO in the Winter Months when food is Scarce and also a little top up of Habitat. We are LOSING Soo Many Animal Species Including Birds because of Selfish, Greedy, Uncaring, Thoughtless, Humans And Several Generations Down The Line I Predict Birds And animals mostly gone and Narsasist Humans Ennmasse - Thank You for the post Cd BA hons


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