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The various types of bird food reflect the species of bird that can be fed, whether they are carnivores or nectar eating birds.
While it is a popular practice to feed wild birds from bird feeders, they can carry potential risks for the birds that feed there, such as disease, malnutrition, and predation by domestic animals. Researchers recommend that bird feeders be disinfected every time they are refilled.
Black sunflower seeds are highly recommended for use in bird feeders because they attract a wide variety of birds, have a high ratio of meat to shell, and are high in fat content. Other common bird seeds include Niger, or thistle seed, a favorite of goldfinches, millet for sparrows and juncos, and safflower for cardinals, among others.
Suet is recommended for insect-eating birds like nuthatches and woodpeckers. Artificial nectar – essentially sugar water – attracts hummingbirds. Bread and kitchen scraps are often fed to ducks and gulls (although this can lead to nutrient deficiencies and increased defecation for the birds in question). Chickens are commonly fed maize, wheat, barley, sorghum and milling by-products, in a mixture traditionally called chicken scratch.
When feeding wild birds the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) suggests that it be done year round, with different mixes of nutrients being offered each season. Selections should have additional fat content in the winter months, and additional proteins in the form of nuts, seeds and dried worms in summer when birds are changing their plumage and may be molting.
Farmed birds fed commercial bird food typically are given very specific scientifically designed pre-blended feed. Examples of commercial bird food for chickens include chick starter medicated crumbles, chick grower crumbles, egg layer mash, egg layer pellet, egg layer crumbles, egg producer pellet, and broiler maker med crumbles.[clarification needed] Pellet crumbles are often prepared for tiny chicks. Mash is more finely ground.
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