The Fine “Seed” Line”: Making of a House Blend
By Marsha Pearson
If I’d had my druthers, our “house blend” would have contained only hulled sunflower and peanut halves, because those are my two favorite ingredients and they have, the most bird attractiveness. at least in the area where I live, and don’t leave a mess on the ground. What could be more perfect?
Of course, it’s not a perfect world and, as any store owner knows, that won’t work for lots of reasons. Despite my favor for the simple mix, I had, of course, customers who swore by some of the other mixes we had in the store. What’s more important is the fact that I sold them the correct mixes that worked for THEM, not only what worked for me. So, How do you decide what should go into your “house” blends, and where do you draw the line on price vs. quality?
Anyone of you, my loyal readers, who might think of using fillers, think again. There is no better way to lose a customer quickly than to do that. I don’t want to dwell on the subject, but even big box stores are beginning to sell mixes with better quality ingredients, so competition is certainly beginning to tighten. Milo doesn’t belong in your mixes unless birds in your area will eat it. For most of us that means “Just say NO to MILO.”
I’ve always considered cracked corn to be a filler as well. It looks interesting to the consumer, and that makes the mix look interesting. The difference, though, between corn and milo is that birds will at least eat the corn.
Who are we, when we sell seed?
We, as store owners, are the experts. We know what birds in our area like to eat; we can offer advice no matter what the situation. We can explain our pre-determined seed blends, offering added value in terms of our expertise on varying bird feeding habits. The reasoning behind the blends becomes clear in terms of actual birdfeeding, not just in terms of one’s pocket book.
Making Blends That Make Sense
I’ve been to a lot of wild bird feeding stores and seen lots of seed blends. Of course, there is a certain “customer psyche” that comes into play. If one purchases a blend called “Cardinal Yummies”, one can certainly expect more Cardinals, right? Well, we’re smarter than that and know that it may or may not be true. Some stores have lots of mixes with bird-specific names. Other than using it to sort of “play” with customer emotions, I’m not sure it’s really necessary. So, I gave it some thought and would like to present to you four blend possibilities, primarily meeting four price points (from high to low) but, if presented correctly, also offering a variation with regard to how birds eat.
The best of the best: This is a no mess mix containing seeds that birds will eat. My favorites, as I have already said, are hulled sunflower and peanut halves. You can also add hulled millet if it is available to you. Why peanut halves and not hearts or pieces? Many birds, not just blue jays, can tell the difference between the smaller seeds and the peanut halves. The larger pieces provide a greater attractiveness for chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers, to name a few. Great for just about all feeders and trays, although millet may pool in tube feeders, if it’s included.
Stepping down a rung: How about a nice blend that’s primarily black oil, mixed with hulled sunflower, peanuts and a smattering of striped sunflower? This is a great “no millet” mix. Great for feeders because there’s no pooling of millet at the holes of tube feeders.
One more step down: A nice “house” mix: How about the mix above, but now add a bit of millet to the mix? Attracts a wide variety of birds and if you go easy on the percentage of millet, won’t pool too much.
Low end mix: Try a mix that has more millet, but still a fair amount of black oil, a few hulled sunflower, and cracked corn. This is a mix that’s really ideal for tray and ground feeding.
Selling the Mixes
The reasoning for a no mess mix is clear, with the two middle mixes offering alternatives with regard to millet or no, but a cost effective choice from the “no mess” mix.
As a store owner, I used to shy away from the “low end” mix. “Not in my store!” I now think differently. By asking the right questions, there may be, in some cases, good reason to actually recommend the lower priced mix because it will get the customer the results he/she is looking for.
Do you go through what I call “twenty questions” with new customers? It’s a really good idea and will give tremendous insight into the correct seed blend to recommend. I used to tell customers that it was a “little like going to the doctor, but it won’t hurt a bit”. Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
What kind of bird do you want to attract or do you see birds in your yard and do you know what kind they are?
Do you have a feeder? What kind is it or what does it look like?
Where is it hanging or where do you plan to hang it?
Do you have squirrels? (This always gets a laugh! I’m serious though, a newbie won’t have squirrels yet because they are not feeding the birds yet.)
Is there also a bird bath nearby?
When you begin to ask the right questions, you get a better understanding of, not only what kind of seed will work best, but also on the customer’s knowledge of birds in general. Do they also need more than seed, like a feeder or baffle? Do they need a book or field guide to help them out? Should they also provide a source for water?
What is “pooling” of millet and what causes it?
Pooling of millet in tube feeders is caused by two factors:
1. Smaller seeds like millet just seem to sink to the bottom. Since most feeders are gravity fed, it is likely that millet will fall to the bottom first no matter how well mixed the blend.
2. Birds that frequent tube feeders (or any feeder, for the most part) usually have a preference for seeds other than millet. These birds will pick out what they want, leaving millet to “pool” around the opening. The result is too much millet around openings.
Therefore, if you have a mix with too much millet in a tube feeder, you may not get as many of the birds that absolutely won’t eat it. However, if you have a fair number of birds that “bill sweep”, knocking the millet out of the way, some millet may not be as much of a deterrent. Alternatively, maybe they have a lot of sparrows, and they want a special feeder that will especially attract them to, hopefully, leave the other feeder for various other species.
Are You thinking Fruit?
Dried fruit is not as attractive to birds as we think it should be. I’ve seen dried papaya and heard that starlings like it best. We know that starlings don’t really need encouragement, do they?
Raisins, dried cranberries and other dried fruits sell when they get moist and clog up feeders. My recommendation? If you want to carry them, sell them separately for tray feeding.
It’s our job to help consumers make smart choices that give them the results they want, and that will meet their expectations with regard to bird visitations to their feeders, not just price expectations.
Need more help with seed mixes? Just give me a call at 215-392-4850 or email email@example.com.