Why Do Birds Throw Seed Out Of The Feeder?

Have you ever noticed just how much seed birds waste by throwing it out from the feeder? If you are reading this you have probably become fed up with seed mess on the ground below the feeder and the thought of good money spent on bird seed being wasted. Why do birds throw seed out of a feeder? Are they really that ungrateful?

Birds throw seed from bird feeders because it is not what they are wanting to eat, or because it is of poor quality. They are rejecting poor quality food in search of something better, or you are using the wrong type of food in your bird feeder.

Firstly, I have been there and I feel your pain. In the past I had spent a lot of money on feeders and seed for birds in my garden. I had found a new hobby and loved seeing which birds I could attract. It kind of sucked the enjoyment out of it, to see so much seed go to waste. I started to get quite angry at the pigeons for taking all the seed from the ground that I had paid for!

Birds Pushing Seed Out Of Feeder

If you see birds pushing the seed out from your feeder it is a sure sign it is no good to them; they are looking for the good stuff. This problem is usually a direct result of using cheap, low quality bird seed. Have you ever looked at what is actually contained in a cheap bag of bird seed?

If you look at the list of ingredients you will see things such as milo and millet, maybe cracked corn. These are known as filler seed and are not usually as tempting to a small garden bird. This type of filler is inexpensive, hence why it is a feature in cheap seed mixes. It is also the main reason you will see birds throwing out of a feeder.

Why Do Birds Spit Out Seeds?

So, now I am talking about spitting seed out, rather than throwing it to the ground before eating it. When you get to see up close how a bird eats a seed, you will notice that more often it is the hull or husk of a seed that is spat out. Of course, it might be the birds at a certain feeder try each seed looking for the best ones before discarding them, instead of pushing them out straight away.

Below is a rare moment in my garden – a goldfinch at the feeder filled with sunflower hearts. They only ever go to the niger seed feeder. Keep reading below…

The video shows what I am trying to describe. There will be the odd fallen seed but what you mostly see is the lightweight outer skin or part of the hull being discarded or falling off the kernel. This can even happen with sunflower hearts even though the husks have been removed.

Around 16 – 18 seconds in you will see a flake of something fall from the bird’s mouth. Clearly not a seed, just a bit of unwanted husk.

Why Do Birds Throw Seed On The Ground?

There are a couple of points I’d like to make here. One – you may  have the wrong type of bird food for the birds that visit your garden. Two – the seed falls to the ground because it can. Let me explain…

Using The Wrong Food In Your Bird Feeder

It could be that you are using the wrong food in your feeder and the birds just don’t like it. They go to the feeder but find seed that isn’t in their diet, or seed that is too small. Think about the species of bird you get in your garden. I am willing to bet you have some ground feeders that peck around for smaller bits of seed – Dunnocks and Sparrows spring to mind.

The problem is, especially with mixed seed, that there are so many smaller pieces in there that the tree feeders aren’t interested in. While this may suit the ground feeders when it is dropped, Tits, Robins, Finches and so on are used to finding larger meals like grubs and berries. When they go to a feeder they are looking for more appropriate sized food.

My advice is to do some research and experiment. For the usual visitors (robins, tits and finches) I have found sunflower hearts to be a good all round bird food. A peanut feeder is also a popular choice. The Goldfinches prefer niger seed over anything else and it is only they who take it. I have to say my experience with mixed seed is a bit hit and miss.

Don’t Allow The Seed To Fall

It may sound obvious but seed will fall to the ground because there is nothing to stop it from doing so. I believe it is called gravity! If you have hanging feeders with larger feeding ports there is little you can do to stop some of the seed from falling as it gets disrupted. There isn’t anything you can really do to teach a bird table manners – they have none.

Something that bothers many garden birders is the damage and mess caused by fallen seed under their bird feeders. The reason I don’t like seed falling to the ground is because I live in an area with a high rat population. When I feed the birds the rats come.

If you want to find out more about these issues visit my other posts here:

How To Stop Weeds Caused By Bird Seed

How To Stop Attracting Rats To Bird Feeders

If you have birds pushing seed out of a feeder, one solution you could try is to use a table feeder instead. Or, try putting something under the feeder to catch the seed. Either of these will serve two purposes – one is to prevent seed from falling to the ground where it can attract vermin or ruin your garden. The other is to provide a perch for the birds and a place to eat.

Something else worth trying is using some netting under a feeder. I have heard people say it works for them but the holes would need to be small enough to catch the seed and I imagine it could be fiddly to remove and to clean.

How Do You Feed Birds Without Making A Mess?

As I have explained already, there are ways you can help to prevent bird seed being thrown to the ground and wasted. Here are some specific examples of how people get round this problem.

Give Them Better Seed

Only buy good quality bird seed. If you shop for bird seed at budget stores and pound shops – good luck to you! The seed you get there might be OK for a short while if you are lucky. My experience is that a whole feeder of cheap stuff sat there for weeks, while a feeder of good quality seed was refilled many times.

Mixed bird seed

Yes, it costs more but the results are definitely worth it. For a good quality seed mix try the High Energy No Mess Seed Mix from CJ Wildlife. I prefer to use sunflower hearts because I know the birds love them – Premium Whole Sunflower Hearts, also from CJ Wildlife. You can also see their products here at Amazon.

Change The Feeder Type

Many people opt for a bird table in their garden as well as, or instead of hanging bird feeders. I like them and they are a nice addition to any garden. However, I do not have one because it makes it much easier for squirrels to help themselves to the bird food.

However, there are many bird tables available that you might want to consider. They are an easy way to stop bird seed from falling to the ground. This one has anti-fungal properties, which is important; fungal and mould based bacteria can be fatal to birds.

A wooden bird table set on a grass lawn – Check Today’s Price

There are so many to choose from there will be something to suit your garden and your budget. Some are more enclosed and some even have roofing felt on top to prevent the rain from leaking through to the food.

You might also consider a hanging table type bird feeder. You still have the flexibility of where to hang the feeder and as it is a flat surface no seed will drop to the ground (at least not as much). There are many available in different styles, from mesh and solid wood to novelty hanging benches and round dishes.

Catch The Seed

If you are happy with the feeders you have and want to try something different, maybe even homemade, you can simply attach something underneath your feeder that catches any falling seed. The easiest method is to use an old metal sieve with the handle cut off, hung by string or garden wire. Surprisingly simple and very affordable to do.


Birds are messy eaters and have little regard for table manners. A bird at a bird feeder will often be seen flicking bits of seed out as they search for the bits they want. The reasons are quite straight forward and it comes down to the type of food you are providing them.

The problem is that discarded seed left below a bird feeder can begin to germinate and result in weeds growing in the grass. Another problem is that seed left on the ground could attract rats or other pests.

Cheap, poor quality seed mix contains filler that many species of garden birds aren’t interested in. It may often be the case that the decent seeds, such as sunflower seeds, are the substandard ones that were not fit for human consumption. Guess what, birds won’t want them either!

Sometimes as a bird eats a seed the husk is what falls to the ground, even seeds without husks may have a thin layer of skin over them. At least this is not wastage but it can make a mess.

The are easy ways to manage this problem:

  1. Spend a little more and buy a decent quality no mess bird food, or seeds with no husk – sunflower hearts are a good all rounder.
  2. If you use a hanging feeder, try attaching something underneath to catch the falling seed.
  3. Instead of using a hanging feeder try a flat tray feeder or table feeder. This way, any discarded seed stays in one place – easy to clean and manage.