What birds are in my backyard?
Common backyard birds in the United States: How to attract them, how to watch them, how to identify them.
Monday, July 6, 2020
14 Tips to keep bird seed from sprouting in your lawn
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?
You can keep bird seed from sprouting by changing your seeds, changing your feeder, and changing your landscaping using the 14 tips that follow.
First, let’s find out a bit about the seeds in the birdseed! What is it?
Almost all bird seed will sprout. If an unwanted plant is defined as a weed, then bird seed that sprouts is a weed. Some sprouting bird seed may look like grass at first. But bird seeds grow into whatever seed you are feeding: sunflowers, millet, wheat, milo, flax, rapeseed, canary seed. How do you keep bird seed from growing under your feeder?
Change your seeds
Sterilized seeds are heated so that they die. If they fall on the ground they will not germinate and sprout.
Tip 1) Feed Niger seed (thistle)
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.
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.
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.
Tip 2) Sterilize your own seeds
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.
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.
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.
This sounds like way too much work, though. How about some other ideas?
Feed only seeds that birds like
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.
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.
Tip 3) Feed one type of bird seed in separate feeders
Feeding one type of seed in each feeder will result in birds only visiting the feeder with their favorite foods. They’ll eat this seed, not throw it away. Thus, less bird seed will fall on the ground to sprout.
This tip doesn’t stop accidental spillage. It stops birds from throwing away seeds they don’t like.
Tip 4) Buy fresh bird seed
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 5) Don’t buy bird seed with milo
Most birds don’t like milo. They throw it out of the feeder. It sprouts.
Wheat, rapeseed and canary seed are similar.
Why is milo in bird seed? Chickens like it in chicken scratch. It is very cheap and the bird seed manufacturers already use it. Some bird seed is more than 50% milo. It ends up growing in your lawn.
No mess bird seed
Tip 6) Feed No-mess bird seed
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).
You can purchase a mixed blend containing those seeds and others. You can buy hulled sunflower and other seeds.
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.
Change your feeder
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.
Stabilize bird feeders
Tip 7) Stop your bird feeders from swinging
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.
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.
Catch those seeds!
Tip 8) Install a seed catcher on the bird feeder pole or hang below your feeder
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!
Proper feeder for proper seeds
Tip 9) Feed birds black oil sunflower seeds in tube feeders with small feeder ports
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.
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.
Tip 10) Feed mixed bird seed in a low platform feeder
Platform feeders are messy. Birds stand in the feeder with the seeds.
Birds that like to eat from platform feeders, like sparrows and towhees, naturally kick the ground with both feet at once in a kind of hop-kick. They do this on the ground to dig up the soil and turn over leaves. They do this in the feeder, too. They can’t help themselves.
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.
Change your landscaping
Make the ground under your feeder easier to clean
The inedible hulls of the sunflower seeds that the birds “spit out” have a natural chemical that keeps most other plant seeds from germinating. Thus, the ground under your feeder is often bare of grass.
Tip 11) Add pavers or flagstones under your feeders
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.
Tip 12) Clean up spilled seed before it sprouts
Regularly rake or sweep up the hulls and spilled seeds before they germinate. You may wish to invest in an outdoor backpack vacuum/blower. You need one anyway, for those fall leaves, right?
Accept the mess!
Tip 13) Move your feeders to the edge of your lawn where it doesn’t matter
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.
Tip 14) Create a flower garden under your feeder
Remember I said that sunflower hulls prevent some other plants from growing? Some. Not all.
Plant flowers under your bird feeder and let them grow wild! Wild geraniums, day lilies, clematis, lupines, dahlias, mint, cotoneaster, lemon balm, purple coneflowers. Get the idea? A few stray bird seed sprouts won’t even be noticed!
Preventing weeds beneath the bird feeder
Bird feed contributes to the spread of aggressive weeds.
October 29, 2008
Anyone who feeds birds in the backyard has had the experience of weeds — even tiny sunflowers — popping up in the grass beneath the feeder. Usually they’re readily mowed down. But you need to watch out, says the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA), because some of those weeds can be pretty aggressive.
In fact, when researchers at Oregon State University looked at 10 brands of wild bird feed commonly sold in retail stores, they found that they contained seeds from more than 50 species of weeds. including 10 that are on their state’s list of most noxious weeds.
Not all of them grew, but plenty did. When they studied the weed seeds that fell to the ground beneath bird feeders, Dr. Jed Colquhoun and the other researchers found that “30 weed species sprouted in just 28 days. Between three and 17 weed species grew from each of the 10 brands of feed tested.”
The 10 noxious weeds were buffalobur, bull thistle, Canada thistle, common ragweed, dodder, field bindweed, jointed goatgrass, kochia, puncturevine , and velvetleaf (a relatively new weed in Oregon that was found mostly growing under bird feeders).
So how can you minimize the spread of new or invasive weeds that originate in bird feed? There are several simple strategies to consider to avoid having your bird feeder become a weed seeder, the WSSA says:
Use a tray attachment under your feeder to keep seeds off the ground.
Select foods that won’t sprout, such as sunflower hearts, peanuts, peanut butter, raisins, mealworms, and plain suet cakes.
Buy only treated wild bird food mixtures. Many manufacturers are now baking their products to kill weed seeds, using guidelines established by the US Department of Agriculture. So read product labels carefully to make certain you select a treated brand.
Keep an eye out for weeds under your feeder and pull them before they can flower and spread.