Hundreds of songbirds are dying from a mysterious illness that causes strange neurological behavior and experts have no idea why

A small brown bird with a crusty layer over its eyes.
A bird found in Washington DC with swollen, crusty eyes, a common symptom of the strange illness.

  • A mystery illness has killed hundreds of songbirds in several US states.
  • It also causes the birds to act strangely, and lose some control of their limbs.
  • Scientists are testing for viruses, bacteria, and chemicals, but the cause is still unknown.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Hundreds of songbirds across at least eight US states are dying from a mysterious illness with strange symptoms, but experts have no idea what’s causing it.

The US Geological Survey said on June 9 that sick and dying birds were being reported in several US states, with neurological symptoms and some physical complications that include eye swelling and crusty discharge.

Birds with these symptoms have now been reported in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Allisyn Gillet, an ornithologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said a large variety of songbirds are dying from the unknown illness.

“We need to figure out what makes this disease be able to affect all these different species,” she told Insider, “and why is it in all these different states.”

The affected species include those that are typically seen in backyards – common grackles, blue jays, European starlings, American robins, and cardinals, among others.

It’s ‘as if they didn’t have any control over their head’

Gillet said they realized something was going on when a local wildlife rehabilitation center in the state started taking in birds with the same combination of peculiar symptoms. The birds had eye swelling, crustiness, and discharge, to the extent that it hindered their ability to see.

The birds were also disoriented and exhibiting unusual behaviors, including walking in strange ways and stumbling around. They had little control of their limbs and would do things like kick their legs up while on their backs.

“They would sway their heads in strange ways, as if they didn’t have any control over their head,” Gillet said.

People were reporting the birds seemed oddly unafraid of people, but Gillet said they were likely just too blinded or disoriented to react. She said the mortality rate of the illness appears high, as most of the birds are dead shortly after they are reported to officials. There have been 280 confirmed bird deaths with these symptoms in Indiana alone, according to Gillet.

Diagnostic labs are testing the bird specimens for viruses and bacteria, and are conducting toxicology testing for chemicals. They have been able to rule out avian influenza and West Nile virus, but not much else.

“They haven’t come to any conclusion. There are no definitive results right now,” Gillet said.

One possible factor being explored is the recent brood of cicadas throughout the eastern US. The emergence of the cicadas aligns with the timing and range of the bird illness. Gillet said there’s a correlation there, but a link has not yet been established.

Taking down bird feeders and baths helps the birds ‘socially distance’

In the meantime, officials in the impacted states are recommending citizens take down their bird feeders and bird baths, things that encourage birds to congregate.

“We want them to socially distance,” Gillet explained. “We don’t know enough, so we have to take the proper precautions.”

She also recommended reporting instances of birds displaying these symptoms to local wildlife authorities. Some states, like Kentucky and Indiana, have online wildlife disease reporting systems where citizens can upload photos or videos of the afflicted bird.

Gillet said the illness is especially unfortunate given that birds in North America already face many threats, such as habitat loss, window collisions, and natural predators with inflated populations.

A study published in the journal Science in 2019 found 3 billion birds have vanished from North America since 1970, and that even common species are experiencing declines.

“It’s unfortunate that there has to be another thing that is affecting their populations negatively,” Gillet said.

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

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The 10 best bird feeders in 2021

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Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • There are a variety of bird feeder designs for attracting different species of birds to your yard.
  • We consulted experts from the Audubon Society and Project FeederWatch for this guide.
  • These are the 10 best bird feeders, including hopper, tube, suet, and hummingbird feeders.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Ericka Wade, DVM, a veterinarian at Burke County Animal Hospital, Georgia.
bird feeding from blue tube feeder made by Perky Pet, one of the Best bird feeders in 2021

Setting out wild bird feeders is an easy way to attract a diversity of native and migrating species to your yard. It’s something both you and your feathered friends will benefit from: Studies have shown that providing food for wild birds can help them to maintain good health, live longer, and have more reproductive success.

To better understand the types of birds a feeder can attract, the feeder designs that work best, and the varieties of food they like best, we consulted with three avian experts from the Audubon Society and Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch. We combined their expertise with extensive research to come up with the best products in 10 categories of wild bird feeders.

Here are the best bird feeders in 2021

The best tube feeder

three birds eating from Droll Yankees Onyx 18-in Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder

The sturdy, easy-to-clean Droll Yankees Onyx 18-inch Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder comes backed by a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage.

Tube feeders are a great way to attract a variety of smaller birds, including finches, wrens, and chickadees. Plus, they are easy to fill and can typically be both hung and pole-mounted. “Tube feeders offer a lot of different ports for different individuals to sit on at the same time and they keep seed dry and clean,” said Emma Greig, project leader for Project FeederWatch at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

Droll Yankees’ Onyx 18-inch Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder has four powder-coated metal feeding ports with perches and a seed tray. Its transparent 18-inch-long tube is made from discoloration-resistant plastic and it has a metal twist-and-release base that is easily removed for cleaning. The Onyx holds up to 2 pounds of feed and, thanks to its spring-loaded flip-top metal cap, it can be filled one-handed. Suspend the feeder from its stainless steel wire or pole-mount it. If squirrels get too curious, the feeder is backed by a lifetime warranty against any damage they cause.

Onyx 18-in Mixed Seed Tube Bird Feeder (button)
The best budget tube feeder

perky pet wild blue bird tube feeder hanging from a tree

The affordable Perky Pet Tube Wild Bird Feeder is as weather-resistant and easy-to-clean as it is bright and cheerful.

All of the experts we consulted agree that a high-quality wild bird feeder should be made from easy-to-clean plastic, metal, or glass. It should also be easy to take apart for proper cleaning, according to John Rowden, senior director of bird-friendly communities at the National Audubon Society in New York, New York.

The affordable Perky Pet Tube Wild Bird Feeder‘s six plastic feeding ports, perches, and plastic base all come apart so you can remove old seed and scrub out the bacteria left behind. The bright blue 18-inch-long tube is made from durable rust-resistant powder-coated metal and holds up to a pound of bird feed. It hangs from a sturdy, built-in metal hanger.

Tube Wild Bird Feeder (button)
The best nectar feeder

four hummingbirds eating from aspects 367 hummzinger hummingbird feeder

The Aspects Hummzinger Ultra Feeder has a wraparound perch and deters insects with raised feeding ports and an ant moat.

Nectar feeders attract long-beaked, jewel-toned hummingbirds and the occasional woodpecker, warbler, or oriole. “These feeders are great because you can make the sugar-water solution at home by simply combining one part sugar with four parts water,” said Katie Percy, avian biologist with Audubon Louisiana. Although some store-bought nectars are dyed red artificially, adding red dye to your mix may actually be harmful for birds, she told Insider Reviews.

Aspects Hummzinger Ultra Feeder is simply designed in two parts that are exceptionally easy to fill and clean. The red plastic cover, which has a wraparound perch and four rain-diverting, bee-deterring feeding ports, screws into a clear plastic base so you to see when nectar levels are getting low. A built-in moat in the middle of the cover prevents ants from getting into the nectar. The 8.25-inch-diameter, 2-inch-tall Hummzinger is drip- and leak-proof, holds up to 12 ounces of nectar, and hangs from a brass hook. Aspects’ feeder also comes backed by a lifetime guarantee.

Ultra Hummingbird Feeder (button)
The best hopper feeder

cardinal perched on woodlink squirrel resistant bird feeder hanging from a tree

The Woodlink Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder has an adjustable perch and a metal shield that drops when heavier critters attempt to feed.

Hopper feeders attract a wide variety of small, medium, and large birds, including jays, sparrows, and finches. “They do a good job of keeping seed dry and [provide] easy access to the birds,” said Greig. As the birds eat, the hopper’s food continuously drops into the feeding ports, keeping them full until the food runs out.

The extra-large capacity Woodlink Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder has a three-position perch that can be adjusted to maximize visits by small, medium, or large birds. When the wrong bird or a squirrel lands on the feeder, a shield drops over the seed tray to prevent them from getting a taste. Woodlink’s Hopper is made from durable powder-coated steel and its locking, squirrel-resistant lid lifts off for easy cleaning. It holds up to 15 pounds of seed and a seed-level indicator window lets you see when it’s running low. This feeder comes with both a steel hanging rod and a 5-foot pole and mounting kit.

Squirrel Resistant Hopper Feeder (button)
The best mesh finch feeder

bird perched on More Birds Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder

With a mesh tube, four perches, and a seed tray, the More Birds Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder offers finches a variety of ways to feed.

Finch feeders are similar to tube feeders but have a mesh seed well instead of a plastic or glass one. This mesh design is perfect for attracting finches, which unlike larger birds, are agile enough to cling to the small openings in the metal screen. Because the finches can feed from any position, it also allows more birds to eat at the same time.

The More Birds Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder is a versatile option that allows birds to choose between landing on its screen, at one of four feeding ports with perches, or on the seed tray. Even if larger birds visit the feeder, smaller finches can still find a place to chow down. The Sedona has a twist-off metal cover and base for easy cleaning and drainage holes at the bottom. The screen is made from steel mesh and the ports and seed tray are weather-resistant. This sunny yellow feeder holds up to 2.8 pounds of seed.

Stokes Select Sedona Screen Bird Feeder (button)
The best suet feeder

one bird feeding at More Birds Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder

The More Birds Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder protects two suet cakes within a durable steel cage frame.

Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and starlings, among others, enjoy eating calorie- and fat-dense suet, a feed made from animal fat and ingredients such as corn meal, nuts, and dried insects. Suet is commonly sold in solid cakes that are then suspended in a cage for easy access. Suet is a good feeding option in cold weather, but it is best avoided in warmer months since the fat in the feed can quickly turn rancid in the heat, Percy said.

The cylindrical More Birds Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder has an interior cage for holding two cakes of suet and an exterior cage to keep squirrels out. Both are made from weather-resistant powder-coated steel. The steel lid lifts off for easy cleaning and filling. Squirrel-X’s Suet Feeder is 10 inches in diameter, 9.4-inches tall and is fitted with an aluminum hanger.

Squirrel-X Squirrel Proof Double Suet Feeder (button)
The best squirrel-resistant feeder

Stokes_Double_Suet_Feeder

Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder has a cage to keep squirrels out and a lifetime warranty against their damage, just in case.

In many areas, squirrels are an ever-present problem when feeding wild birds. “Those things are really clever,” said Greig. “They can jump really far and they’re really acrobatic.” While various measures can be taken to deter squirrels, some feeders are designed with squirrel-resistance in mind. Some seal their feeding ports when a squirrel lands on them and others are suspended within a cage that is too small for a squirrel to squeeze into, according to Rowden. If a feeder doesn’t have built-in squirrel protection, Percy recommends hanging it from a pole that is at least 10 feet away from vegetation or other structures that squirrels can climb and outfitting it with a baffle, a plastic cone that blocks a squirrel’s route.

Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder encloses a clear 15-inch-long plastic tube feeder inside a coated metal cage 10.5 inches in diameter. A plastic roof covers the entire thing to keep the seed inside dry. The interior tube feeder holds up to 1 pound of seed, has four feeding ports, and attaches to the cage with a spring clamp. When it’s time for cleaning, the tube can be easily removed and disassembled. Droll Yankees’ Sunflower Feeder is backed by a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage.

Sunflower Domed Cage Feeder (button)
The best window feeder

three birds perched on the Nature Anywhere Window Bird House Feeder

The Nature Anywhere Window Bird House Feeder gets you up close to wild birds without ever leaving home.

A window feeder gives even those without outdoor space the opportunity to feed winged visitors like finches, jays, and cardinals. It may seem like a bad idea to place a feeder against a window, but both Greig and Percy told Insider Reviews that it’s actually helpful. Placing a feeder within 3 feet of a window reduces the chances that a bird will become confused and fly into it, causing self-injury or even death.

The Nature Anywhere Window Bird House Feeder attaches to any window with four heavy-duty suction cups. The 8-inch-by-8-inch house is made of transparent acrylic and has a large circular window at its center for better viewing. A sliding seed tray holds up to 2 cups of feed and can be removed for cleaning and refilling. Because squirrels can’t climb the sides of buildings, the Window Bird House may be less likely to suffer critter damage than hanging varieties. Nature Anywhere’s feeder comes with a lifetime guarantee just in case.

Window Bird House Feeder (button)
The best domed feeder

two birds eating from Heath Observatory Dome Bird Feeder

The affordable Heath Observatory Dome Bird Feeder can be baited with different foods to attract a variety of birds, including bluebirds.

Like platform feeders, dome feeders have a flat tray that can be filled with almost anything birds will eat, including seed, insects, and fruit. Bluebirds are particularly attracted to this type of feeder when it’s filled with mealworms because the raised dome helps them feel protected from predators. In general, the more variety you add to your feeder, the greater number of species you’ll attract, Percy said. Nutritious options include black-oil sunflower seed, white millet, nyjer seed, orange halves, and suet.

The Heath Observatory Dome Bird Feeder can hold up to a pound of food. It has two separate clear plastic pieces — a flat tray with sides and a dome-shaped cover — that are connected with a steel rod hanger. The distance between tray and cover is adjustable and drainage holes in the bottom of the tray help keep feed clean and dry. The Observatory Dome Feeder is 11.75 inches in diameter and can be hung from its steel hook or mounted on a pole.

Dome Bird Feeder (button)
The best platform feeder

three birds perched on the uncraft Eco-Strong Platform Feeder

The Duncraft Eco-Strong Platform Feeder is made from durable recycled plastic and metal mesh that is easy to fill and clean.

Platform feeders are arguably the simplest, most versatile feeders available. They can be filled with any bird-friendly food and it is easy for most feathered friends to comfortably sit on the tray and eat. Like other feeders, platforms should be made from easy-to-clean materials like plastic or metal. “Although [wooden feeders] can look quite nice, they tend to be porous and harbor additional bacteria,” said Percy.

Duncraft’s Eco-Strong Platform Feeder has a sturdy tray made from recycled plastic and a mesh metal bottom that helps keep feed dry. The 12-inch-by-2-inch feeder is approximately an inch deep and has a hanging chain that clips to rings embedded at each corner to keep it balanced. The whole thing hangs from an S-hook at the top of the chain. The Eco-Strong Platform Feeder holds up to 2 pounds of seed, insects, fruit, nuts, or suet and is easy to detach from the chain for cleaning or filling.

Eco-Strong Platform Feeder (button)
How we selected products

We consulted three avian experts and conducted extensive research to come up with the selection criteria for this guide to the best bird feeders. We then applied that criteria to the bird feeders available at major online retailers, selecting our top choices in 10 different categories of feeders. The essential features we looked for included:

Feeder material: Our experts recommend sticking to feeders made from nonporous, easy-to-clean materials such as plastic, metal, and glass. Percy advised us to stay away from wood feeders in which harmful bacteria is more likely to grow.

Ease of disassembly: Because bird feeders should be frequently emptied, cleaned, and refilled, the easier they are to disassemble, the better. We favored feeders that have a fully removable cover and/or base and removable feeding ports and perches.

Ease of cleaning: Percy recommends cleaning bird feeders at least every two weeks and more often during times of heavy use or wet weather. We looked for feeders that could be easily soaked and scrubbed both inside and out, including in hard-to-reach crevices.

Bird-safe design: Greig recommends avoiding feeders that have tight, narrow corners or additional pieces that could cause a bird to become stuck inside. With that in mind, we looked for feeders with simple, functional designs.

Drainage: When water gets into a bird feeder, it can cause seed and other foods to rot or develop bacteria that may sicken or even kill a bird. In addition to a feeder that’s easy to clean, we looked for designs with built-in drainage when possible.

Price: We compared the cost of the feeders that met our other selection criteria, favoring those that were most affordable.

FAQs

Are feeders good for wild birds?

Feeding wild birds, when done correctly, is appropriate and may even help them when resources are limited,” said Rowden. According to Percy, studies have shown that birds with access to supplemental feeding may have better chances of survival and reproductive success than those that don’t.


What shouldn’t I feed wild birds?

Birds should never be offered processed human foods, including bread. “Bread, fresh or stale, does not provide nutritional value for wild birds and moldy bread can even be harmful,” explained Percy. She also recommends avoiding low-cost commercial bird seed mixes. “Unfortunately, many less expensive bags of mixed seed contain a lot of ‘filler’ seeds that most birds do not prefer and that contain no real nutritional value for them,” she said.


 Where should I hang my bird feeder?

Squirrels and window strikes are two of the most problematic issues when it comes to hanging a bird feeder. To avoid the latter, Greig recommends placing feeders within 3 feet of windows. “If they’re on the bird feeder and they get spooked and fly into a window, they don’t have enough speed built up to really harm themselves,” she said. Hanging a feeder more than 10 feet away from your home can also help keep birds safe. To deter squirrels, try hanging or pole mounting a feeder at least 10 feet from trees and other objects they can climb. Using a squirrel-resistant feeder or baffle, a plastic cone hung beneath the feeder to block a squirrel’s access, can also help to keep them at bay.


When shouldn’t I use wild bird feeders?

Bird feeders are best used in clean, safe, healthy environments, Greig told Insider Reviews. If you use pesticides on your lawn or garden or have outdoor cats, you should not use feeders to attract birds to your yard.


Are there other ways to attract wild birds to my yard?

“You can still create a beautiful space and attract birds to your yard just by creating a bird friendly habitat — letting a patch of your lawn go to seed or leaving a brush pile, for example” said Greig. Rowden agreed. “We encourage people to think about providing food naturally by planting native species that can provide food and shelter and places to nest in, and can potentially provide food throughout the year depending on where people live,” he said. The Audubon Society’s Native Plants Database can help you figure out what to plant around your home to attract birds.

How to maintain a bird feeder

Wild bird feeders must be emptied and cleaned frequently to prevent the feed from becoming contaminated by moisture and bacteria. Percy recommends taking them apart and scrubbing them down at least every two weeks. They should be cleaned more often in wet weather and at times of year that lots of birds are visiting.

To clean a feeder, begin by completely emptying and disassembling it. Check the care instructions to determine whether your feeder is dishwasher friendly or if it must be hand-washed. If it’s the latter, soaking the feeder’s parts in warm water first can dislodge stuck-on debris.

When hand-washing, use a bottle brush and dish soap to thoroughly scrub the feeder’s interior. If it needs disinfecting due to the potential buildup of bacteria, Percy recommends washing it in a solution made from one part bleach and nine parts water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the feeder after washing.

Before reassembling and filling your feeder, make sure it is completely dry. Moisture that sticks around will contaminate feed more quickly.

Our sources

For this guide to the best bird feeders, we consulted the following experts in the field of avian biology, behavioral ecology, and conservation:

We also consulted the following online sources:

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Sharks are among a group of animals with a 6th sense that humans don’t have – they use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate

bonnetheads sharks
Bryan Keller holding a bonnethead shark.

Shark species have an uncanny ability to find their way back to the same feeding grounds every year – even areas thousands of miles away.

According to a study published Thursday, that’s because sharks have a superior navigational tool at their disposal: They can orient themselves using Earth’s magnetic field.

They’re far from the only animals to do so. Birds, whales, and many other species use the same sixth sense to plot their migrations.

Bryan Keller, a biologist at Florida State University who co-authored the new study, likens this sense to “having an ‘internal GPS.'”

“This is, in my opinion, the best explanation for how migratory sharks successfully navigate during long-distance movements,” Keller told Insider.

‘Sharks garner map-like information from the magnetic field’

Earth's Magnetic Field
An illustration of Earth’s magnetic field.

Nearly 2,000 miles below Earth’s surface, swirling iron in the planet’s outer core conducts electricity that generates a magnetic field. This field stretches all the way from the planet’s interior to the space surrounding the Earth. It’s what protects the world from deadly solar radiation.

But the direction that the electromagnetic energy flows, as well as the strength of the resulting protective sheath, depends on where on the planet’s surface you are. So animals that use the magnetic field to orient themselves do so by detecting these differences in field strength and flow. They then use that information to figure out where they are and where to go.

Scientists long suspected sharks could navigate using the field, since the animals can sense electromagnetic fields in general. But that hypothesis had been difficult to confirm until Keller’s study.

His team examined the bonnethead shark, known as Sphyrna tiburo, because the species exhibits site fidelity – meaning it returns to the same estuary habitats each season.

“This means the sharks have the capability to remember a specific location and to navigate back to it,” he said.

bonnetheads sharks
An overhead shot of bonnethead sharks in a holding tank.

The team captured 20 bonnetheads off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico, then placed the sharks in a 10-by-10-foot tank. They generated a tiny magnetic field within a 3-square-foot area of that tank. (Bonnetheads only reach 4 feet in length, which made them an ideal species to study in such a small pool, Keller said.)

The team then tweaked that localized magnetic field to mimic the electromagnetic conditions of various locations hundreds of miles away from where they’d caught the sharks. If the animals were truly relying on magnetic-field cues to navigate, the thinking went, then the bonnetheads would try to reorient themselves and start swimming in the direction they thought would lead to the Florida coast. That’s exactly what happened.

When the researchers mimicked the conditions of the magnetic field on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the animals exhibited no preference in which direction they were swimming – suggesting they assumed they were already in the right place.

“I’m not surprised that sharks garner map-like information from the magnetic field, because it makes perfect sense,” Keller said.

Many animals use the magnetic field for navigation

Even though the new study was done on bonnetheads, Keller said the findings likely apply to other shark species as well.

Great White Shark
A great white shark heads near the Neptune Islands, Australia, in June 2014.

How else could a great white, for example, migrate from South Africa to Australia – a distance of more than 12,400 miles – then return to the exact same chunk of ocean nine months later?

“En route to Australia, the animal exhibited an incredibly straight swimming trajectory,” Keller said of great whites. “Given that the magnetic field is perhaps the only constant and ubiquitous cue available to these migratory sharks, it is sensible that magnetic-based navigation is responsible for facilitating these incredible navigational successes.”

Other navigational cues do exist, including currents and tides, but Keller said the magnetic field “is likely more useful than these other aids because it remains relatively constant.”

Biologists still aren’t sure how sharks detect the field, but a 2017 study suggested that the animals’ magnetic receptors are probably located in their noses.

The ability to detect and orient using the magnetic field is fairly common in the animal kingdom overall, according to Keller. Scientists have observed that type of behavior in bacteria, algae, mud snails, lobsters, eels, stingrays, honey bees, mole rats, newts, birds, fish like tuna and salmon, dolphins, and whales.

Sea turtles, too, rely on magnetic cues when they migrate thousands of miles to lay eggs on the same beaches where they hatched.

Two_Wire_Fox_Terriers
Two wire-haired Fox Terriers.

Dogs, meanwhile, can find their way home both using their impressive sense of smell and by orienting themselves using the magnetic field, according to a June study.

“The magnetic field may provide dogs with a ‘universal’ reference frame, which is essential for long-distance navigation,” that study said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

See photos of the bird that researchers scientifically deemed the ‘most Instagrammable’

GettyImages 1228980605
Tawny Frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) seen roosting on low fallen tree.

  • Two German scientists set out to answer a simple question: What makes a good bird photo?
  • They examined thousands of Instagram photos and users’ “like” behavior to find the champion.
  • In the end, a nocturnal fowl native to Australia and Southeast Asia came out on top.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in the tawny frogmouth’s case, the creature’s wide, emotive eyes helped secure it the title of the most photogenic species of its class.

Two German scientists – one, a photography aestheticist, and the other, an avid bird aficionado – set out to use empirical evidence to answer a seemingly subjective question: “What makes a great bird photo?”

In a study released last week, Dr. Katja Thömmes and Dr. Gregor Hayn-Leichsenring, both postdoctoral researchers at the University Hospital Jena in Germany, examined more than 20,000 photos of birds across nine Instagram accounts with a total following of more than 3 million users in search of their answer.

Some of the results were surprising.

For example, researchers found that a photograph’s “aesthetic appeal” was frequently unrelated to how “beautiful” the picture is in a traditional sense of the word. Certain colors on a bird, including blue and red, may garner more “likes” from Instagram users, but the “interestingness, idiosyncrasy, and…situational context” of a feathered fowl plays a larger role in accumulating social media approval.

In other words, the weirder the bird looks, the more likely people will be to respond positively to the photograph. And Instagram users’ appreciation for the unusual birds is likely responsible for the study’s overall victor: the frogmouth.

GettyImages 107642893
Bird keeper at the Australian Reptile Park Kellie Masters looks after a 2-month-old Tawny Frogmouth on December 7, 2010 in Gosford, Australia.

Often confused for an owl, the nocturnal frogmouth boasts long wings, short legs, a hooked beak, and front-facing eyes. The birds are most commonly found in their native Australia and Southeast Asia.

While most birds’ eyes are positioned on the sides of their head, the frogmouth’s forward-facing eyes make the creatures appear more “personable” and “humanlike,” Tim Snyder, the curator of birds at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago told The New York Times.

“They always look perpetually angry,” Snyder told the outlet. “The look on their face just looks like they’re always frustrated or angry with you when they’re looking at you…it’s kind of funny.”

Thömmes told The Times she didn’t expect the frogmouth to take the number one spot. Out of more than 27,000 images examined by the duo, the frogmouth was only in 65, she said.

“The frogmouth brings that factor of surprise as it just does not look like any other bird, with its almost anthropomorphic, facial features,” Thömmes told The Times. “I must admit that I have grown quite fond of this peculiar nocturnal bird myself.”

GettyImages 107642854
A 2-month-old Tawny Frogmouth looks on at the Australian Reptile Park.

To conduct their experiment, the scientists used a method Thömmes developed called the Image Aesthetic Appeal, or IAA.

Thömmes provided an in-depth explanation of how the method works to The Times: “[The number of likes on an Instagram photo] alone doesn’t have much meaning to it, especially if we want to compare it to another photo,” she said. But once the scientists control for “reach and time,” “we can for example, state that Photo X received 25 percent more likes than the exposure to the audience alone can explain.”

Other popular birds on Instagram include the pigeon, the turaco, the hoopoe, and the fairywren, according to the study.

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The 6 best wild bird seeds and food of 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Different species of birds have different preferences when it comes to seeds. If you offer the wrong type, you likely won’t have many feathered visitors. This is a frequent problem if you fill your feeders with the least expensive “Wild Bird Seed Blend” on supermarket shelves, which generally include unfavorable milo and millet seed.

We rounded up the best bird seeds preferred by certain bird species, like bluebirds, cardinals, and finches. Be sure to do some research to learn which birds native to your region so you can buy the right seed to raise your chances of spotting some beautiful new backyard visitors.

To maintain freshness, it’s important to store your bag of seeds in a dry, cool, and dark place when not offered to birds outside. Make sure to clean your bird feeders weekly, too.

Here are the best bird seeds and food of 2021

The best wild bird seed overall

bird seed

Valley Splendor contains black oil sunflower seeds, which most wild birds love, and it’s also affordable enough to keep your feeders full. 

Pros: Appeals to a large variety of birds, reasonable price, works with different types of feeders

Cons: Dropped shells make a mess, attracts squirrels

Available quantities: 2-, 5-, 10-, 20-, and 40-pound bags

Black oil sunflower seeds are smaller and have thinner shells than ones offered for human snacking. Because of this, even small birds are able to crack them open.

Fill your hopper, tube, platform, or hanging feeder with Valley Splendor Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, and you’ll soon have crowds of various birds visiting your yard. Some species you may see include chickadees, finches, titmice, jays, grosbeaks, cardinals, sparrows, and doves.

Though dropped shells can become messy and the seeds may attract squirrels, these two downsides are relatively common among bird seed.

The best wild bird seed mix

bird seed

If you want a mix that will attract a wide variety of birds, Wagner’s Greatest Variety Wild Bird Food offers an excellent medley.

Pros: Attracts a wide variety of birds

Cons: Contains some less popular types of seed, appeals to squirrels

Available quantities: 6- or 16-pound bag

With lots of black oil sunflower, along with striped sunflower seeds, sunflower chips, white millet, red millet, cracked corn, red milo, nyjer, peanut kernels, canary seed, and safflower, Wagner’s Greatest Variety Wild Bird Food is a buffet for finches, chickadees, cardinals, jays, titmice, sparrows, woodpeckers, and juncos alike.

You can fill your hopper, platform, or hanging bird feeder for the most visitors, or scatter some on a ground feeder for doves and other scavenging birds. Like our best overall pick, Wagner’s may also attract squirrels.

Wagner’s Greatest Variety Wild Bird Food Mix does contain some less-popular or frequently wasted seed, but the majority of the seeds are crowd-pleasers. 

The best no-mess wild bird seed

bird seed

Lyric Sunflower Kernels are pre-shelled so you won’t find a mess of discarded seed casings underneath your feeder. 

Pros: No shells to make a mess, little wasted seed, appeals to a wide range of birds

Cons: Attracts squirrels, can spoil easily if the seed gets wet

Available quantities: 5- or 25-pound bag

Birds tend to drop shells to the ground and kick undesired seeds out of the feeder, but Lyric’s Sunflower Kernels feed combats this issue with already-shelled seeds that will leave your backyard clean.

This bird seed only contains pure sunflower seed pieces and, because sunflower seed is so popular with so many species of birds, it’s unlikely you’ll have leftover or wasted seed.

The one caveat to these kernels is that they’ll easily spoil if they become wet, so be sure to store them in a dry place. These seeds also attract squirrels, so you may not have much wasted seed left in your feeder anyway.

Fill your hopper, tube, platform, or ground feeder with the sunflower kernels, and enjoy watching finches, titmice, sparrows, grosbeaks, buntings, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, doves, and other favorite species gather for the feast.

Editor’s note: This item is temporarily out of stock. We will continue to update inventory.

The best wild bird seed to attract finches

bird seed

If you love small songbirds like the American goldfinch, fill your feeders with Wagner’s Nyjer Seed Premium Wild Bird Food and listen to their happy singing.

Pros: Appeals to small songbirds, little waste, won’t sprout if it falls to the ground

Cons: Spoils easily, can be messy

Available quantities: 2-, 5- 10-, 20-, or 50-pound bag

Tiny black nyjer seed — also called thistle seed — is a favorite among small songbirds, including the beautiful yellow, black, and white American goldfinch. Wagner’s Nyjer Seed Premium Wild Bird Food also attracts house finches, purple finches, redpolls, indigo buntings, and pine siskins.

Because the seed is so small, it’s generally served out of thistle feeders or sock feeders specifically designed to dispense seeds without allowing larger “bully” birds to hog all the food.

Small songbirds can easily pull the nyjer seeds out of the feeder’s small ports or mesh, but larger birds can’t get a grip or perch, so give up in frustration.

Since nyjer spoils fairly easily and can be somewhat messy, it’s best to only provide enough for birds to eat within a day or so.

The best wild bird seed to attract cardinals

bird seed

Northern cardinals will fly to your feeder full of Kaytee Safflower Seed, as it includes the breed’s much-loved seed: safflower. 

Pros: Attracts cardinals and other strong-beaked birds, squirrels generally leave it alone

Cons: Appeals to a smaller variety of birds than other seed types, messy shells drop under the feeder

Available quantity: 5-pound bag

If you live in the eastern half of the United States, you can have northern cardinals regularly visit your backyard. The bright red plumage of the male cardinal is so distinctive that you don’t need birding knowledge to recognize it. Females aren’t as brightly colored but are still beautiful with yellow-gray bodies and soft brown tails and wings.

While cardinals are happy to dine on several types of bird seed, they go crazy for safflower. That’s why filling your hopper, platform, or hanging feeder with Kaytee Safflower Seed is likely to bring them calling. Other common birds that like safflower include grosbeaks, jays, and woodpeckers.

Because safflower seeds have thick shells, many other backyard birds will pass them by. You may find discarded shells under your feeder, which is common with miniature seeds such as these. And, wonderfully enough, squirrels will typically leave safflower seed alone.

The best wild bird food to attract bluebirds

bird seed

If you want to attract bluebirds to your yard, you’ll need to skip the seed and tempt them with freeze-dried Kaytee Mealworms Wild Bird Food.

Pros: Appeals to bluebirds and other insect-eating species

Cons: None

Available quantity: 17.6-ounce bag

Bluebirds don’t eat a lot of seeds and prefer insects or other high-protein foods instead. Kaytee Mealworms Wild Bird Food appeals to eastern, western, and mountain bluebirds, as well as cardinals, robins, wrens, and woodpeckers.

Mealworms are derived from beetle larvae. Since they are freeze-dried — as opposed to alive — most people find it easy to add them to their feeders.

While the worms are an excellent food source for bluebirds all year round, they are especially appreciated during the spring nesting season, when the parent birds need extra food for their young.

These mealworms are perfect for a platform or hanging tray. Don’t pour out too much at once, as these are a supplement to the bluebirds’ diet, not a mainstay. 

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