For a few weeks now I have been watching the birds at the feeders, coming and going without a care in the world. The thing is, this bird feeding hobby is starting to have an impact on my lawn, causing seed mess, bird mess and now – weeds. I didn’t want to remove the feeders but I did want to find out if there is a way of stopping the weeds caused by bird seed. Maybe I was using the wrong type of bird seed – is there a bird seed that doesn’t cause weeds?
Firstly, I want to say this – ‘if you use seed, expect weed’. Seeds are a naturally occurring thing in this world that are designed to germinate and grow into something, if conditions allow. From non germinating seed and catch trays to so called ‘no mess’ seed mix and using the correct feeder – there are ways of avoiding weed growth and other mess around your bird feeders. Here is what I have learnt.
How To Stop Bird Seed Causing Weeds
I’m going to walk you through a few steps you can take that will help to prevent, or at least reduce the weeds associated with bird feeding. If you have bird seed causing weeds in your garden and you want to stop that from happening, the first thing I recommend you do is change the seed you are using.
I use a lot of niger seed as the Gold Finches I that visit love it. The good news is that niger seed is sterile, meaning it won’t germinate (see below). Maybe even use something other than seed; meal worms, fat balls or suet balls can provide nutrients and energy without the mess.
This could be something that you are not keen on doing for the simple reason that the seed you currently use gets good results. If this is the case you may want to decide whether the bird activity you get at your feeder is worth the inconvenience of a few weeds. It can be a bit of a trade-off unfortunately but let’s look at how seed choice can help.
Bird Seed That Doesn’t Cause Weeds
If you are happy to change the type of bird seed you are using in your feeders, you should look for a seed that will not germinate. For those who have forgotten their school biology lessons…
Germination is the sprouting of a seed after it has been planted, having remained dormant for a period of time. Most bird seed will be packaged, kept in storage then sold. We then store it before putting it out.
Even after all this time a seed from a bird feeding mix can still find its way to the soil and begin the process of germination. This is when you start to see the shoots of a new plant coming up.
The types of bird seed to buy, if you want to stop weeds forming, are the ones that contain seeds that are already split or chopped in some way. Hulled sunflower hearts or chips can be a good choice, depending on which birds you are feeding. Tits, Finches, Blackbirds and Robin all like sunflower hearts. Obviously, hulled and chopped seeds will remove the seed’s ability to germinate.
Avoid seed mix with excessive filler. Many commercially produced bird seed mixes contain high levels of filler, such as Milo and Millet. These are the seeds that often get added to seed mix to fill it out. They are less expensive and bulkier than the other seed but are also less appealing to wild birds.
Out of the two, millet is more likely to be eaten but mainly by ground feeding birds like Pigeon, Doves and larger rural birds. Milo is less likely to be eaten and will be pushed aside or kicked to the ground. Remember, seed that falls to the ground can germinate and cause weeds.
Instead, go for a ‘no mess’ type of bird seed mix. The seed contained in this type of product will contain few or no husk. In other words, there is nothing for a bird to dislike and nothing they will feel the need to drop on the ground so they can get to the good stuff. As a result of using this type of feed, you will have less wastage, less chance of seeds on the ground settling and happier birds.
Cheap Bird Seed Is A Waste Of Time And Money
I have fallen foul (excuse the pun) of cheap bird seed in the past and I can say without doubt that if you use a cheap bird seed mix the birds will know and they will avoid it. Before we had to lose our blossom tree in the front garden I had a feeder right next to it. I used some mixed seed my neighbour had given me and started to see some good results.
When the good quality seed ran out I picked up some cheap mix from a well known budget store. I saw their products and was immediately taken with how cheap everything was compared to farm shops or online suppliers. Within a day or so of using the cheap stuff no birds came to the feeder.
Later that week I went out and bought some bird seed from our local equine supplier, where we also bought our dog food. For not much more money I bought two big bags of niger seed and mixed seed. The same day I put the new seed in the feeder, the birds came back. It’s almost as if they sit and watch us as much as we watch them!
Another way of stopping bird seed from turning into weeds is to source bird seed that has been baked prior to packaging. Some manufacturers provide baked bird seed but I have not been able to find an example for you online so far. Please do let me know if you can find any.
It is not completely recommended by the leading bird organisations that you bake your bird seed. The reason is that the process could change the nutritional value of the seed. If you read any popular birding forums you will find people who have done this and say it has worked for them.
So, how long do you bake bird seed to keep it from germinating? Depending on your appliance, anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. I have found two sets of instructions from reputable sources and apparently it does work. So, if you want to give it a go here is what to do:
In a conventional oven, lay the seed out on a flat baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes at 140 degrees.
Microwave your bird seed in a suitable container on high for 2 minutes.
** DO THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK **
I have no scientific knowledge of what baking or microwaving bird seed may actually do and I am in no way responsible for your actions if you choose to try this and something goes wrong.
How To Keep Bird Seed From Falling On The Ground
If you are still struggling with seed falling around your bird feeders you may need to use other methods to prevent the seed from falling. If the seed in your feeder is being dropped by birds, it is likely to be for a few reasons.
A common cause for spilled bird seed is that the feeder used is not the correct type for the seed you use. A feeder with large ports at the bottom is not going to suitable for smaller seed, like niger. The one I use at the moment is an older one with larger holes but I need to get a hanging feeder with small slits instead.
Filler or Husk
As I wrote previously, the amount of other stuff in a seed mix could be a factor. Filler gets ignored and thrown away by birds and ends up on the ground. Even if there is no filler, you will find that certain seeds will be split open by birds to get to the tasty treat inside; black sunflower seeds are an example. Just like us at Christmas, when we crack the shell of a wall nut to get to the edible part, a bird must do the same. The outer shell is discarded and falls to the ground. This will either become a mess of shells you will need to clear away, or shells with bits of seed that can still develop into a weed.
Too Much Seed
One thing that people tend to do (me too, if I’m honest) is put out too much seed in the first place. By overfilling our feeders we encourage seed to fall all over the place. Also, birds could become complacent as to how much food is readily available and not be as careful not to spill any.
Using A Seed Catcher Under The Bird Feeder
As well as making some changes to your feeding techniques, there is one great way of stopping bird seed from falling to the ground – a seed tray. A seed tray is best used with a bird feeder pole, as they normally have a small hole in the centre, allowing you to slide them on to the pole under the feeders. In fact, there are often specific ones made to fit certain poles.
What Size Seed Tray Do I Need?
Seed trays come in various sizes from small ‘side plate’ size up to 30 cm or more. The key thing is that a seed tray must be wide enough in diameter (they are usually round) to catch seed falling from anything above. So, the seed tray you choose will depend on your feeder arrangement.
Some of my feeders are hung from a pole. At the top of the pole are two curved hooks that protrude outwards about 9″. This means that if I want to catch all the falling seed from both feeders I need a tray of at least 18″ – that’s quite a large tray!
Types Of Seed Tray
As discussed, there are seed trays that slide on to a pole, if you are using one. The pole mounted tray will need to be quite wide in diameter to catch seed from feeders that are hung up to 30 cm or so from the pole. Some pole seed trays are made to go with a manufacturer’s feeding pole with a feeder close to or at the top of the pole. These are smaller in diameter as they are mounted directly under a feeder.
Another type of seed tray is one that attaches to the base of a hanging feeder. Again, you will probably find these are purpose made as an accessory to a specific feeder. This is likely to mean feeders and accessories from such a manufacturer will be more expensive. If cost is not as important to you then I recommend going for one of these. The tray also acts as a trough that birds can perch on and feed from.
Make Your Own
This is probably one of my favourite ways to catch bird seed. OK, it might not look as pretty as the manufactured seed trays but does a bird really care? If you don’t mind how a seed tray looks, this is a fun way to do it and you can really get creative. The birds just want somewhere safe to feed with quality food, not the best presented feeder in the neighbourhood.
How To Make Your Own Bird Seed Tray
I have been looking at some DIY guides on YouTube for this and there are some really clever ways people have come up with. If you want to make your own bird seed tray or catcher, you won’t have to spend much at all, if anything. If you want to go all out on this, you can introduce counterweights and wire frames to make your tray the bees’s knees.
You will have a seed tray somewhere in the home, you just don’t know it yet. Have a look around at what you have in the garage or shed. Do you have one of those kitchen draws with all kinds of everything in it? Look there! All you really need is something that is round and lightweight for the tray and something to hang it with.
Keep It Simple
Even a paper plate will do as a tray but it will only last a short time in wet weather. Maybe opt for a shiny coated disposable plate, the kind that kids have at a party. How about an old kitchen sieve? If you don’t have one, go to a discount store like a pound shop and get a few.
Next, find some string or garden twine. This can be used to suspend the tray under a feeder. Wire, string or similar can be threaded through the tray in at least three places and tied to the feeder in some way. I say three places as this will stop the tray from tipping.
It really can be as simple as that, if you want it to be. It serves the purpose of catching seed, it protects your lawn and borders, it even adds another place for birds to feed at a crowded feeder. You can be creative and thrifty with this project, which for me gives greater satisfaction.
How Do You Remove Bird Seed From The Ground?
You are unlikely to prevent every bit of bird seed from falling under your feeder. You may get the odd weed or an accumulation of mess. Here are five ways to keep the area under your bird feeder clean.
This depends on your garden and how you manage it but using a few inches of mulch under a feeder is a good way of allowing spilled seed to decompose and disappear more discretely. From time to time, turn the mulch over to bury the seed. Refresh the mulch when required.
Rake and Vacuum
If you like to keep your garden looking good, chances are you have a garden rake. You might even have a garden vacuum/ blower too. Awesome! rake over the grass under the feeder to loosen and break up any seed. Then use your garden vac to suck it all up for the garden bin.
Relocate Feeders Each Month
It can be a good idea to move your feeders around from time to time; maybe each month. This allows any seed under a feeder to naturally decompose and the area under a feeder to recover.
If your bird feeders and their specific location are really that important to you, consider installing a hard surface under your feeders. For example, a patio slab or two, concrete, or wooden decking. These surfaces are much easier to clean and maintain than grass and garden borders.
Let Your Feeders Run Empty
WHAT?! Surely this goes against everything in the bird feeding bible, which tells us to keep them topped up, clean and accessible. It’s actually a good idea and allows birds to collect any good seed themselves, so you don’t have to. If the feeders are empty birds will look around nearby and spot any seed scattered below. You’ll probably find the ground feeders like Dunnock, Blackbirds and Pigeons will pop along to finish up here.