Millet Seed - Types of Birdseed

What Is White Proso Millet?

Millet Birdseed
Thamizhpparithi Maari / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Millet is a small, inexpensive grain that is a popular ingredient in many birdseed mixes. Feeding millet to your backyard birds will provide them with necessary nutrition and can attract a variety of different species to your feeders.

About Millet

Millet (Panicum miliaceum) is a small, starchy grain that is easy to grow and harvest. There are several varieties of proso millet, including red, golden and striped, all of which are cereal crops.

The most popular type preferred in birdseed is white proso millet, which is also known as common millet, broom corn millet or hog millet. This pale tan or whitish lightweight seed is a bargain for feeding the birds, as one bag will contain many more seeds than an equal sized bag of larger seeds such as sunflower or safflower. Furthermore, millet provides essential nutrition to backyard birds.

The basic nutritional components of millet seed include:

  • 12 percent protein
  • 8 percent fiber
  • 4 percent fat
  • Calcium
  • B vitamins
  • Magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and other trace minerals

By offering white proso millet to your birds, you are offering them an affordable, nutritious meal.

In addition to birdseed, different millet types are also used for brewing alcohol or as edible grain for breads and porridges, and is often ideal for people with dietary sensitivities to gluten. Millet is also often grown as a grazing crop for livestock to harvest while feeding, instead of cutting and storing the grain artificially.

Birds That Eat Millet

Many species of birds prefer millet, including both large and small seed-loving species. Birds that eat millet include:

  • Snow buntings
  • Sparrows
  • Spotted towhees
  • Varied thrushes
  • Yellow-throated warblers
  • Pheasants, quail and grouse

In addition to these species, many other birds will sample millet, especially if it is offered as part of a birdseed mix or suet block. 

How to Feed Millet

Because millet is a small seed, it can easily be fed in a range of different types of bird feeders. Platform feeders are suitable for feeding millet to large flocks of sparrows, buntings or finches. Ground-feeding birds such as doves, quail, and pheasants may prefer millet scattered directly on the ground or in low dishes. Millet can also be offered in hopper and mixed seed tube feeders, though it is not small enough to be fed through mesh feeders or smaller tubes dedicated to Nyjer seed.

Growing Millet

It is easy to grow your own white proso millet as part of a birdseed garden or just to help save money on birdseed. A sunny spot with well-drained soil is best to grow this annual grass. Millet does not grow well in coarse or sandy soils, though it is not overly sensitive to the soil’s acidity.

Before planting, loosen the top four to six inches of soil. Sow a thick layer of millet (you can sow seeds directly from a birdseed mix) and cover it lightly with soil.

Keep the seeds moist until the sprouting grass is 2-3 inches tall to be sure it is well established. The millet will mature in 6-10 weeks, though your backyard birds will likely find the seeds long before they are fully ripe. As the seed ripens, you can clip the long clumped seed heads to feed to the birds or you can strip the small seeds from the seed heads if preferred. You can also leave the plants intact for the birds to feed from naturally.

For a large supply of millet, arrange several plants in different areas of your yard or garden and stagger when you sow the seed to be sure some is always close to ripening. If you plan to store the seed for winter feeding, use netting to cover the plants and protect them from the birds until it is ready to harvest. Store your birdseed in a cool, dry place in a pest-proof container to keep it fresh and delicious for the birds.

Millet is an inexpensive, popular seed that attracts a wide range of birds. Whether you purchase millet or grow your own, this seed is sure to please your backyard birds.