Article Archives
Bird Feeding Big Business

Sunday, January 18, 2004
filed under: Utilization/Trade

Industry experts foresee modest birdseed demand this winter; steady, but not spectacular business is expected.

Typically, birdseed demand increases during winter months, particularly in northern regions and with severe weather. Bird food buyers usually bid to meet their needs at the front of the sunflower harvest, with bids picking up again later in the winter as bird food processors fill their orders.

Brian Matter, Cenex Harvest States, St. Paul, Minn., says that trying to figure a buying trend this year is difficult. “Some larger companies are covered into January or longer, but there are still some customers going hand to mouth, week to week.”

While there is no established oil premium or discount in the bird food market, birdfood processors commonly base their price to producers off the oilseed market and an average oil premium, though price may fluctuate based on oil content by production region. “I would expect some packers in N.D. will have to pay more just because of their location. If they’re in an area with 44% oils produced this year they will probably have to pay those prices to buy them,” says Matter.

Usually, about one-fourth of the U.S. sunflower crop is sold into the birdfood market. For producers of confection sunflower seed, the birdfood market can provide an alternative for product that doesn’t meet human food standards. A list of bird seed buyers can be found on the 'Seed Suppliers/Buyers' page within the Buyers section on the NSA web site.

Cyber seed

Who would have guessed that selling home-delivered bird seed over the Internet could be a successful business? Yet Gordon Moe and Dan Ecker’s has not only survived what can often be a rocky start for a new business (let alone a business on the Internet), their cyber store is even branching sales into other online birdfeeding businesses.

Moe is an Internet web site developer from Hawley, Minn., and Ecker a sunflower grower from Grandin, N.D. Since launching their online bird seed business in February, 2002, they have experienced steady monthly growth. “We’re up 128% compared to last year, and gearing up for a busy Christmas season. We’re looking for December to be a new record-setting month,” says Moe.

“We have an occasional sale to places like Minneapolis and Fargo, but that’s not our market at all. Our sales are mostly into metro areas and urban markets on both coasts,” says Moe. “Our price, even with free shipping built into it, is often less expensive then some of the retail shops people are shopping at. And despite the negative press in recent years, e-commerce continues to grow. We’re seeing our per-order dollar amount going up. Somebody who bought $150 of product might reorder at $190. We recently had somebody place an order for $460. These are serious bird feeders, who don’t want to hassle with hauling seed to their homes.”

Moe says that is finding a niche in part by supplying bird seed to other online pet stores and bird seed suppliers. “If you have a web store and want to sell bird seed, the email order comes to us, and we put your label identity on the product, ship it out, and bill you for the service and the seed.”

The process is similar to eBay, which markets a lot of products, with orders shipped from somewhere else.

“We’re finding fullfillment centers that don’t want to warehouse the birdseed. Just like eBay, they don’t want to deal with inventory, they’re just out there marketing products,” says Moe. “So that’s why we’re not only looking to sell through ebirdseed, but any number of web stores who want help with our service to get product to the birdseed customer’s door.” – Tracy Sayler

Profile of the U.S. Bird Feeding Industry
  • 46 million bird watchers or “birders” 16 years of age or older
  • $32 billion in overall retail sales (including equipment, transportation, guides, etc.)
  • $2.2 billion spent annually on bird food
  • $85 billion in overall economic output
  • $13 billion in state and federal income taxes
  • 863,406 jobs created
  • 49, age of the average “birder” who demographically is slightly more likely to be female, and
  • Likely to be white and married.
The higher the income and education level, the more likely a person is to be a birder. About 27% of people who live in households that earn $75,000 or more are bird-watchers — 5 percent above the national average of 22 percent. Education, which is often highly correlated with income, shows the same trend. People with five or more years of college had the highest participation rate at 33 percent.

Source: Birding in the United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Full online report can be found at

return to top of page

   More about Sunflower ►