Article Archives
Bird Feeding Industry Outlook

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
filed under: Utilization/Trade

A significant factor to the bird feeding industry is weather, particularly in the Northeast, where a significant portion of bird feed goes to retail outlets.

For example, warm winter weather in the Northeast early last winter caused what one industry member referred to as “constipation” in the supply pipeline.

When there is snow on the ground, birds tend to rely more on seed from feeders, because the foods that occur naturally in the environment are covered. However, with the warm weather in early 2006, the snow melted and the birds were able to consume what was available in the environment. Subsequently, bird feed sales slowed considerably.

This “constipation” was relieved during the spring and summer as the naturally occurring foods were depleted and migrating birds returned to North America to consume feed offered at feeders across the continent. Bird feed distributors in general reported being very busy over the summer months. Indeed, even though the summer offers insects and other food sources that can’t be found during the winter, feeders still attract birds during the summer, and many bird enthusiasts enjoy visits by migrating species at feeders that aren’t around during the winter.

The impact of this year’s drought in parts of the U.S. will be felt in the bird feed marketplace. The bird feeding industry expects the cost of seed for packaging to be higher in calendar 2007 than it has been in 2006. The quality of the raw product is expected to be the same in 2007 as in 2006, and the industry expects the same availability of raw product to be available for packaging for 2007 compared to 2006.

As an industry that deals through distribution networks to retail outlets, the bird feed industry is also sensitive to fuel prices, packaging costs, transportation costs and availability, in addition to the cost for feeds.

Generally, the industry anticipates consumer demand for bird feed will be the same in 2007, possibly trending higher. Utilization of sunflower in bird feeding is expected to be the same in 2007 as it has been in 2006. While millet, milo, and corn can be interchangeable, sunflower is a staple in the bird seed mix. Bird feeding is a market segment that will always represent a modest yet steady market for sunflower, with an annual estimated growth rate of about 3 to 5%.

“Project Wildbird” Year One Results

A landmark research study into the feed and feeder preferences of wild birds in North America – “Project Wildbird” – is the first continent-wide study to give scientifically substantiated information and recommendations to help the bird feeding industry. The Wild Bird Feeding Industry Research Foundation appreciates the three-year, $10,000 grant from the National Sunflower Association in support of the Project Wildbird project.

We are pleased to report that at the end of the first year of the study, Project Wildbird recorded observations by 554 citizen scientists on bird species and bird feeding habits. There were 36 species recorded in the observational area of the study, and the feed and feeder preferences of 59 species of wild birds were recorded in the more involved (experimental) phase of the study.

Black oil sunflower is constantly offered in one feeder by each experimental citizen scientist during their one-year commitment. Fine chips, medium chips, and striped sunflower are rotated through the bird feeders in combination with other seeds. During Year 1, over 8,500 pounds of sunflower products were used by 46 experimental citizen scientists in 11 states. In the first year, the black oil sunflower, fine chips and medium chips were contributed by Anderson Seed of Mentor, Minn. The striped sunflower used in the first year of the study was contributed by D&D Commodities of Stephen, Minn.

More about the study can be found online at

Managing Concerns About ‘Bird Flu’

Unwarranted fears about ‘bird flu’ are obviously of concern to the bird feeding industry, and for sunflower growers who sell into the bird feed market.

Last fall, the Wild Bird Feeding Industry issued its first national press release to calm consumer fears generated by media coverage of avian flu. In April, WBFI members formed the Avian Flu Workgroup to not only monitor the global media on this issue, but also to prepare the industry response should highly pathogenic H5N1 ever be found in North America.

The feeding of wild birds continues to be sanctioned by such health experts as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) along with the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. There is no evidence of any human being sickened by the birds that visit feeders.

As we move into the fall season, media reports available on the Internet show that highly pathogenic avian flu H5N1 continues to infect humans in Asia in cultures that live in close proximity to poultry including chickens. However, the predicted mutation of the virus to be easily transmissible from human to human has not occurred as of this writing in mid October.

In North America, both U.S. and Canadian wildlife scientists are following an aggressive monitoring campaign to detect any arrival of the highly pathogenic strain of H5N1. As of this writing, the highly pathogenic strain is not found in North America.

The WBFI continues to encourage consumers to enjoy their bird feeding and watching activities. We provide information about avian flu and safe bird watching and feeding tips online at

Ornithologists (bird scientists) point out that while the risk of avian flu is remote, it’s still a good practice to keep bird feed and feeding areas clean to help reduce the possibility of disease transmission in birds. And it’s good hygiene to wash your hands after filling or cleaning feeders.

– Susan Hays, executive director, Wild Bird Feeding Industry, Sioux Falls, S.D.

return to top of page

   More about Sunflower ►