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Backyard Bird Feeding

Do you feed the birds? If so, you are among the more than 1 1/2 million Missourians who do, according to a Missouri Department of Conservation survey.

Although birds benefit from the easy access to birdseed, you are the primary beneficiary of this recreational activity. Enjoying the mystique of birds at close range brightens your day and enriches your life.

Seed Preferences

To make the most of your birdseed budget, choose seeds that your favorite birds prefer. The table below, based on a 1980 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report on birdseed preferences, can help you do this.

The table lists the seed preferences of 13 common bird species. The birdseeds are arranged with the more attractive varieties to the left and the less attractive types to the right. Photographs of the seed types are included to assist in seed identification. With the aid of this table, you can improve the quality of your bird-feeding experience by furnishing the seeds most attractive to your favorite birds. For example, the sunflower and niger seeds are all especially attractive to goldfinches. But when you consider the costs of these seeds, sunflower seeds are probably the best buy, plus they're more attractive to a wider variety of birds.

Also, you can see that some birds, such as tufted titmice and chickadees, are finicky eaters, whereas birds such as mourning doves and white-throated sparrows will eat about any type of seed.

Bird Seed Preferences Key

X = relatively high attractiveness

# = relatively moderate attractiveness

O = relatively low attractiveness

Bird 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

American Goldfinch X X O O X O O O X O O O O O

Blue Jay # X O O # # O # O O O O O O

Brown-headed Cowbird # O X X O O # O O O O # O O

Cardinal X X # # # O O O O # # O O O

Chickadee X X O O # O O O O O O O O O

Common Grackle X X # O X X O # # O O # O O

House Sparrow # # X # # # # O O # O O O O

Mourning Dove X # X X # # X # # # # # # #

Purple Finch X X O O # O # O # O O O O O

Song Sparrow # # X X # # X # O O # O O O

Tufted Titmouse X X O O O O O O O O O O O O

White-crowned Sparrow X X X X X # # X O O O O # #

White-throated Sparrow X X X X X X # # O # # # # O

The Appeal of Missouri's Birds

Birds lift our spirits with their powers of flight, brilliant feathers, captivating songs and appealing antics. Throughout Missouri, many kinds of birds grace our home gardens, farms, prairies, forests and wetlands.

Missouri's birds come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They vary in wingspan from about 3 inches for the ruby-throated hummingbird to 9 feet for the American white pelican, and in weight from 1/8 ounce for the hummingbird to about 30 pounds for the trumpeter swan. Even their odd names--such as coot, snipe and prothonotary warbler--have special appeal.

Of estimated 9,000 species of birds in the world, approximately 900 occur in North America, and more than 400 have been recorded in Missouri. In addition to the 150-plus species that regularly nest in Missouri, other species migrate between nesting grounds to the north and wintering grounds to the south, and others wander in from the east and west.

The great variety of Missouri's birds makes seeing and learning about them a delightful, endless challenge. But where and how do we observe them? By exploring our state's varied habitats and carrying at least two tools: a good pair of binoculars and an identification field guide. As you will discover, birdwatching, or birding, is a great way to enjoy outdoor Missouri.