It is easy to identify plants from birdseed by their seedy heads, which self-sow prolifically if left to grow. Fortunately, there are several strategies to prevent the mess while still attracting seasonal and year-round birds to the garden.
Choosing the right feeder can help eliminate the seed waste that causes weed infestation by providing a more efficient feeding experience catered to the species of bird. Different types of birds respond to different types of feeders. Tube feeders will attract small birds that like to hang upside down while foraging, such as chickadees and goldfinches, while hopper-style feeders work best for larger birds, such as grosbeaks and cardinals, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. Platform feeders work well for a variety of birds depending on whether they are hung high in a tree or placed near the ground.
Birdseed can start a variety of different weeds in the garden, so it is best to use a low-mess or no-waste birdseed.
Use No-Waste Birdseed.
One of the most straightforward solutions for curbing weed growth from birdseed is to purchase no-waste birdseed. Birdseed makes a weedy mess when it is scattered on the ground in part because the seed is minimally processed and still able to germinate. No-waste birdseed comes pre-hulled so that it can’t germinate if it lands on the ground. Sometimes called ‘low-waste’ or ‘mess-free’ birdseed, this variety is more expensive than many other birdseed blends, but it will prevent weeds while keeping wild birds fed.
Many of the plants that grow from birdseed can be classified as weeds. In fact, Oregon State University warns that birdseed is known for creating weed infestations. Most commercial seed mixes contain only a small percentage of seed that birds find desirable, with the rest being filler seed species, such as red millet and sorghum, that end up on the ground and grow into weeds.
Positioning a bird feeder wisely will also help prevent a weedy birdseed mess. Oregon State University recommends positioning a tray beneath the bird feeder to catch any spillage. Placing the feeder over a concrete patio or driveway where seeds can’t germinate also helps prevent a weed infestation. Be sure to sweep up any seeds that do spill on the ground immediately after you notice them.
Another option is creating a homemade blend of birdseed that contains only the seed types that are most desirable to birds, which will help ensure that the birds eat them all rather than scattering them on the ground. The University of New Hampshire Extension recommends creating a birdseed mix with 50 percent sunflower seeds, 35 percent proso white millet and 15 percent cracked corn. This mix will attract a variety of birds to a feeder, particularly if you locate the seed in different feeders around the garden.
A well-stocked bird feeder is one way of attracting birds to the garden, but a more sustainable and less messy alternative is to plant landscaping that provides habitat and food for birds instead. The University of Missouri Extension recommends studying the habitat needs of the types of birds you hope to attract. For instance, birds such as the goldfinch prefer to eat and linger in shrubby landscapes, while meadowlarks prefer open, meadowlike spaces. American robins like tall trees and open fields, so the typical yard with a shade tree will appeal to them.
Choose the Right Feeder.
Create Bird-Friendly Landscaping.
Since the ground under your feeders may be a mess anyway, add pavers. A square of 9 or 16 pavers set close together will be easy to sweep up. Seeds that fall in the cracks and sprout are easy to pull up.
Niger is not really thistle. This plant seed is also sold under the trademark name Nyjer. It does not germinate and sprout in your lawn–for one very good reason.
Not only will these seeds stop bird seed from sprouting, there will also be no mess from the inedible seed hulls. This is great for patios, lawns, and other areas where you don’t want any mess under the feeder.
In 2001 the USDA required imported Niger seed for birds to be sterilized for 15 minutes at 120˚ C (248˚ F). This sterilizes the seeds.
You can purchase a mixed blend containing those seeds and others. You can buy hulled sunflower and other seeds.
Tip 12) Clean up spilled seed before it sprouts.
You can buy seed catcher trays that hang under most styles of bird feeders. Then you can catch both the discarded hulls and any whole seeds that might have fallen from the feeder. It keeps the ground under your bird feeder much cleaner!
Alternatively, I have seed directions to place 5 pounds of bird seed into a paper sack and cook in the microwave on High for 5 minutes. I have also heard some people have accidentally burned their bird seed this way. So try it for lesser amounts of time. Then put it in wet conditions (e.g., damp paper towel in bottom of a glass) for 7 days and see if it sprouts or not.
It is inevitable that uneaten seeds will spill out of your bird feeders. The birds themselves may knock some of it out in all of their activity. This uneaten seed will germinate and sprout in your lawn under your feeders. How do you keep sprouting bird seed under control?
Or, perhaps, the bird feeder pole is swaying. In that case, you need a stouter pole or a lighter feeder. A light feeder may swing in the wind easier, though.
Perhaps there’s an area at the edge of your lawn that you can let go to dirt. This can be under some evergreen bushes. It could be at the edge of a “wild” area.
Spread bird seed on a flat baking sheet that has a lip all the way around. Preheat your conventional oven to 250˚ F. Place the baking sheet with bird seed in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Remember I said that sunflower hulls prevent some other plants from growing? Some. Not all.
Common backyard birds in the United States: How to attract them, how to watch them, how to identify them.
This sounds like way too much work, though. How about some other ideas?
Cheap bird seed may be cheap for a reason. It may be stale and old. Birds may toss it aside looking for something fresh. Or they may abandon the feeder altogether. Birds will eat more of the fresh seed and not toss away the old. It is best not to store bird seed from one season to the next. Buy new.
Tip 1) Feed Niger seed (thistle)
House finches sit on the feeder and “chew” the seeds, cracking them open and dropping the hulls out of the feeder. Sometimes the birds accidentally pull out extra seeds that drop to the ground. But there is certainly less fallen seed than in hopper and platform feeders, where birds stand in the tray with the seeds.
Since it is sterilized it will not sprout under your bird feeder. This is a favorite food of small finches such as goldfinches, siskins, and house finches.
The Niger seed is the only bird seed you are likely to find that has been sterilized. But you can sterilize your own bird seed the very same way. Baking bird seed will stop it from sprouting.
Feeders themselves don’t stop bird seed from sprouting. However, the bird feeder and how it is hung up can change the amount of seed falling to the ground uneaten.
First, let’s find out a bit about the seeds in the birdseed! What is it?
Platform feeders are messy. Birds stand in the feeder with the seeds.
Many mixed seed varieties feature a no-mess or no-waste bird seed. These contain such bird foods as hulled sunflower seeds (seeds without hulls), hulled white proso millet, sunflower chips (hulled and broken), peanut pieces, cracked corn, dried fruits, and nuts (without the shell).
Some bird seed may spill from your feeder as it sways in the wind. Even birds jumping on and off the feeder may cause it to swing wildly. You may need to shorten the hanger. You may try tying the bottom of the feeder. You may add weight to the bottom of the feeder. It may be that you need to buy a different, perhaps shorter and wider, bird feeder.
A low platform feeder doesn’t stop the amount of bird seeds kicked out. But it does help keep it confined to a smaller area. Then those ground-feeding birds can locate the spilled seeds easier and eat more of it up from the ground.
Birds such as chickadees, titmouses, and nuthatches eat only one sunflower seed at a time. They fly away to a tree branch to hammer it open to eat the kernel inside. Then they return to the feeder. This feeding behavior causes fewer seeds to be spilled.
You can keep bird seed from sprouting by changing your seeds, changing your feeder, and changing your landscaping using the 14 tips that follow.
Sterilized seeds are heated so that they die. If they fall on the ground they will not germinate and sprout.
Many types of mixed bird seed contains filler: cheap seeds that most birds don’t like. Birds toss aside the undesirable seed, often on the ground. This discarded bird seed is likely to sprout.
Just like you, birds have a preference of foods they like. They get up on the feeder and scratch through the mixed seeds, searching for their favorite food.
Most birds don’t like milo. They throw it out of the feeder. It sprouts.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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. Working Out Which Type Of Bird Feeder To Use.
Filler or Husk.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Too Much Seed.
** 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.
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.
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.
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.