How to Use Milo Seeds for Feeding Birds

Close up of milo seed

Neil Palmer (CIAT) / Flickr / Used With Permission

While not suitable for every bird feeding station, milo seed can be a good addition to feeders in the right area and if offered in the proper quantities. Because it is a large grain, approximately the size of a BB, it is a bulky addition to mixes that can make quantities seem much larger. Milo can make up 40 to 50 percent of the cheapest birdseed mixes.

What Is Milo Seed?

Milo seed is a type of grass grain that's used as filler in birdseed mixes. It's also used as feed grain for livestock. The nutritional value of milo seed is similar to that of corn. It comes in two varieties: white and red. The latter is more common and less expensive.

Nutritional Value

Milo seed (Sorghum bicolor) is a type of grass grain, also called sorghum, durra, or jowari. It comes in two varieties, white and red, and the red is a more common part of inexpensive birdseed mixes.

The nutritional composition of milo is not impressive—it is primarily carbohydrates, and while that starch can be valuable, it is not as concentrated an energy source as fats or oils, and many birds have more difficulty digesting milo, which can lead to more feces. The grain is a good source of iron and fiber and includes trace amounts of calcium, but birds can also meet their needs for iron, fiber, and calcium through much better food sources.

In addition to its use in birdseed, milo is a popular food source for humans and livestock, particularly in less developed areas where the cheapness of the grain is an asset.

Birds That Eat Milo

While milo seed is not the most popular type of seed for a wide variety of backyard birds, there are birds that will readily accept this grain as part of their diet, including:

  • Game birds, such as wild turkeys, Gambel's quail, California quail, and ring-necked pheasants
  • Large doves, including Eurasian collared doves, white-winged doves, and rock pigeons
  • Large western jays, including western scrub-jays and Steller's jays
  • Ground-feeding birds such as common grackles, brown-headed cowbirds, and European starlings
  • Southwestern ground birds, including plain chachalacas

Milo is most preferred by western birds and larger species with hearty appetites, but it is far less popular with passerines that frequent feeders in eastern North America. Additionally, this grain can also be attractive to bird feeder pests such as squirrels, rats, mice and raccoons, which makes it even less attractive for feeding birds.

How to Feed Milo

Because the birds that readily eat milo are larger species, it is best to offer this seed either directly on the ground or in large, low trays with plenty of space for flocks to feed comfortably. Limiting the amount of milo offered at once will help minimize waste or spoilage, and avoid adding milo to the hopper or hanging feeders where smaller birds are more likely to toss or kick it out as they seek tastier treats. Milo can also be offered to squirrel feeding areas to help distract furry guests from bird feeders.

Avoid Problems

Because milo is not as attractive to buntings, finches, sparrows, and other desirable backyard birds, having too much milo at a feeding station can cause numerous problems. Excess seed can attract pests or will spoil, creating unpleasant smells or mildew that can damage other food. Milo can also sprout, causing an unsightly mess underneath feeders. To avoid these types of problems:

  • Dilute the amount of milo offered at once by mixing cheap birdseed with more desirable seeds such as black oil sunflower seed to create a more pleasing custom mix.
  • Offer the seed in ground-feeding areas on a patio or deck where it will be unable to sprout, and only offer small quantities as needed.
  • Take steps to discourage bully birds at the feeders so doves, grackles and other birds attracted to milo do not displace smaller birds.
  • Take steps to keep mice away from bird feeders and minimize the risk of unwanted guests taking advantage of leftover milo.

Milo seed can be controversial birdseed to offer at backyard feeders, but if offered carefully and thoughtfully, it can be a useful addition to a birding buffet for larger, less discriminating birds. While many birders prefer to avoid offering milo entirely, backyard birders with large populations of doves, game birds or other species that enjoy this grain can offer it regularly to not only feed their flock but to enjoy the savings of this inexpensive seed.