Augusta County horticulturist Mark Viette has been creating his own custom birdseed blends for years.
“When you create these special mixes, you’re going to attract birds like pine siskins, goldfinch, tufted titmouse, doves, and depending on where you live you might even get a grosbeak,” he said. “Some of the commercial blends that you see have a lot of things in them that the birds don’t like. They actually scratch them out. … These are things that are in the blend to keep the cost down, but they are of little or no nutritional value to the birds.”
Many of his ingredients of choice are available, and affordable, at local natural food stores. The one ingredient Viette recommended buying in bulk is black-oil sunflower seed.
“I like to start with about 80 percent black oil seed,” he said. “I sometimes use celery seed; birds love celery seed, and a small container is only about 85 cents. Dill seed is another inexpensive ingredient that birds love. I collect fennel seed from my garden as well, and that’s free. Hulled millet is another good one, as is pumpkin seed. Birds love pumpkin seed.
“Nuts like pecans are also good for the blend. They should be somewhat fresh, and crush them before adding so one bird doesn’t end up with the entire nut. And uncooked, unsalted peanuts in the shell are great.”
Mix a few tablespoons of the smaller seeds and a half-cup or so of the other ingredients into a bucket of black oil sunflower seeds.
“It’s important not to overfeed the birds, so be sure they’ve cleaned everything up before refilling your feeders,” Viette said. “You don’t want to starve them, but you don’t want them to cost you needless money.”
Viette has almost a dozen feeders within 50 feet of each other. “Don’t be afraid to put all your feeders in a small area,” he said. “Make sure you have different types of feeders as well. Multiple feeders increase the number of birds almost exponentially.”
Platform feeders are good for larger birds; suet feeders work for woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees; and traditional feeders are good for other breeds. Don’t forget thistle feeders as well, Viette said. “You wouldn’t think it would make a difference, but having different feeders means the birds are not competing with each other.”