What To Put Under a Bird Feeder: What You Need To Know About Your Feeder

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Six Easy Tips To Clean It Up and Six Ways To Stop the Mess!

We talk a lot here at WildBirdScoop about keeping bird feeders clean, but keeping the ground under the feeders clean is also important.

Feeding wild birds creates an unnatural situation by attracting birds to a concentrated area to eat.

This concentration of birds means lots of poop in a small area, which creates perfect conditions for bacteria and diseases to thrive and make our precious birds sick.

As a result, we must do our part to be responsible for keeping things clean and providing a safe and healthy feeding environment for wild birds to eat and enjoy.

Why Do You Need To Keep the Ground Under Bird Feeders Clean?

Seven Reasons To Keep the Area Under Feeders Clean:

  1. To prevent the development of bacteria and fungi, which can make wild birds sick.
  2. To limit the attraction of rodents like rats and mice.
  3. The uneaten seed on the ground may not be eaten before it decays from the moist condition of the soil. The rotting seed will quickly start to smell.
  4. The seed will damage the ground, especially black oil sunflower seed hulls, which contain a toxin that will kill some types of plants and prevent others from growing.
  5. This mess will change the chemical balance of the soil.
  6. Some fallen seeds will sprout and cause unwanted plants to grow.
  7. The seed scattered under the bird feeding area will attract social birds like pigeons, blackbirds, and starlings to arrive in large numbers.
Birds on bird feeder

How To Clean Under Bird Feeders Effectively?

Six Easy Tips for Cleaning Below Bird Feeding Stations

It is almost impossible to feed wild birds constantly and not have a little mess to clean up, but these tips will help you clean and maintain it.

1. Start by giving the area under your feeders a good cleaning to begin your new commitment to keeping the area clear of bird seed.

2. Use a shovel if you need to, but get it all picked up. Throw it in the trash, or better still, compost it properly.

3. After the initial mess is dealt with, decide what surface you want under your feeders and install it. There are good suggestions below.

4. Regularly rake or sweep the area, and/or use a 3-in-1 Electric Blower/Mulcher/Vacuum with Multi-Stage All Metal Mulching System. Yes, it does exactly what it says!

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5. Keep your feeders in one spot, even if it creates a mess! Some people suggest moving your feeders around your yard regularly to give the seed that has fallen an opportunity to naturally compost.

This will create a problem for some birds that do not adapt to change well and should only be undertaken after a couple of years of feeding birds in one location. Changes seem less disturbing after feeders have been consistently available over time. But this solution will bring other problems in my opinion.

6. Another suggestion is to use natural enzyme spray to help the area under your feeders’ compost faster. But again, I must share that this idea has limitations, as the seed matter will likely not decompose fast enough as newly fallen seeds and shells will constantly be added to the pile.

Consistently removing the debris that hits the ground is the only satisfactory solution.

How To Maintain the Area Below Bird Feeders

Why do birds throw seeds out of a feeder? Wild birds toss seed out of the feeder for two reasons:

The Seed Is Low Quality

Purchase the best quality bird seed. Even if you use one type of seed, such as black oil sunflower, and the birds still toss some out, it could be that the seed is low quality.

When the birds open the shell from low-quality seed, it is often empty, or the seed is immature. This results in the birds scooping out seeds looking for ones filled with nutritional material.

The best seed is often used for human consumption. Then some food processors will sell the under-developed seed as bird seed.

Always check several seeds when purchasing a new brand to ensure a full-size kernel is inside.

Mixed Birdseed Can Be a Problem Whether It’s High Quality or Low Quality

If you are purchasing a low-quality mixed blend of birdseed, milo, red millet, wheat, barley, and oats are likely in the mix, which are all seeds that very few backyard birds will eat, if any at all.

So the shoveling process of seed onto the ground goes on while the wild birds are looking for seeds they prefer to eat. This makes a big mess on the ground below!

The solution to the two problems above is always buying good quality seeds. Less seed wasted will quickly make up for the extra up-front expense of better seed.

Even with the best blend of seed, some birds will continue to toss seed out while looking for a preferred type like peanuts. The good news is that other birds will usually eat the seeds thrown to the ground if it is a good blend.

High-Quality Seed Makes #1 – Try Wagner’s

Once you have solved the problem of poor seed and are committed to a better quality product, you will notice a big difference in the amount of bird feeder mess that falls to the ground.

Any debris falling will be shells that the wild birds do not eat.

Young Cardinal bird

Hang a Seed Catcher Under Your Bird Feeder

Seed-catching trays attach under the feeder, and all the seeds thrown from the feeder will fall into the tray, avoiding all that mess on the ground.

It also provides a flat surface for wild birds like Mourning Doves to eat, who normally don’t feed on a feeder with small perches.

This way, the mess is in the tray, where it gets another chance to be eaten, and it is much easier for you to clean up.

Styles of Seed Catcher Trays

Is the Ground Bare Under Your Bird Feeders?

Sunflower seed hulls contain a toxin that prevents some other plants from growing. This may be why you notice that the ground is bare under your feeder.

Sunflower seeds are not alone, either. Other plants do the same thing, like black walnuts. This is the way these plants reduce competition for growing space.

This is called allelopathy.

To keep the hulls of sunflower seeds from killing off plants under your bird feeders, use a leaf vacuum regularly.

This will also reduce the spread of diseases caused by bird droppings under your bird feeder.

Vacuum and rake the area directly affected under your feeding stations regularly, and you will have a much tidier and cleaner area.

WORX WG509 12 Amp TRIVAC 3-in-1 Electric Leaf Blower with All Metal Mulching System
  • [LEAF BLOWER, MULCHER & VACUUM] Yard work doesn’t stand a chance with this 3-in-1. And it’s fun to use. Leaves and debris on...
  • [QUICKLY SWITCH MODES] Changes from leaf blower to vacuum mode and back again with just the flip of a switch. No tools needed,...
  • [METAL MULCHER] The metal impeller cuts in two stages, chopping leaves down to an 18:1 mulch ratio – that’s 18 bags of leaves...

Last update on 2022-12-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Install an Easy-To-Care-For Surface Under the Bird Feeding Area

Install a concrete patio or use paving bricks or flagstone to build a patio for the birds. You can also use landscaping rocks and native plants to provide the birds with their favorite food.

This will make it easy for ground-feeding birds like doves, juncos, and others to graze on the fallen seed and much easier for you to keep clean. This will also hopefully help relieve the congestion at your bird feeders.

Make a Rock Pile Under Your Feeders

Number six is a suggestion from a follower of WildBirdScoop.com.

From Tim in Minnesota, USA

Just read the article about what to do with the seed mess.

What we do is pile up rocks under the feeders, mainly around the pole.

The seed falls between the rocks to the ground. The seed seldom grows. It works pretty well!

I hope all these methods help to solve your bird feeder mess problem and make it easier for you to manage.

Happy Birding!

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Jacob Swanson

Jacob Swanson is a writer and wildlife photographer born and raised in Wisconsin and currently based in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his work has appeared in over a dozen different web and print outlets. In his free time, he’s on a personal quest to visit every U.S. national park and see as many wildlife species as possible. His favorite birds are whooping and sandhill cranes.