Tuesday, April 6, 2021

End the mess of feeding wild birds!

How do you feed wild birds without making a mess?

Many people give up on feeding birds. You can see those abandoned bird feeders in people's yards. One major reason people stop feeding birds? "It's just too messy!" 

So, how do you feed birds without making a mess?

You can feed birds without making such a mess by making 3 changes. Change the amount of food you offer to only what the birds eat in a day. Change the type of food you offer to hulled sunflower and other hulled seeds. Change the type of bird feeder to a tube feeder.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow by Greg Gillson.

Messy bird feeders are discouraging. Fallen seeds and hulls can kill the grass. They can draw insect pests. Messy bird feeders can even draw rats. Worse yet, if not cared for properly, bird feeders can actually spread diseases to birds we're trying to help and enjoy.

I've lived in homes with ample backyards where bird feeding was simple. Any seed spillage just went to the ground at the rough back edge of the property. However, I've also lived in second-floor apartments and other places where feeding birds was not practical because of the mess.

Winter weather can blow bird seed hulls all over the yard, tip over feeders, and make a gooey mess of moldy seeds unless you clean up immediately. Let's face it, going out regularly in winter weather to clean the bird feeders is not high on most people's list of fun things to do.

If you've stopped feeding birds because of the mess, perhaps you can use these tips to start feeding birds again--this time without the mess!

Make bird feeding less messy by putting out less food

Do your birds have a never-ending supply of bird seed? If so, the birds have no need to search for any seeds spilled on the ground under the feeder.

By putting out less food than your birds can eat in a day, you encourage birds to feed on the ground searching for spilled seed after the feeder is empty.

Make sure to refill your feeder every day, though, or birds will not return regularly. If there's no extra food in your feeder it is less likely to go bad or attract non-bird pests.

[You may like this related article: Bird feeder empty in a day--How often should you refill?]

Make bird feeding less messy by changing to hulled sunflower and other seeds

The most popular bird seed blends that people buy are the least expensive. But these are filled with up to half seeds that birds don't like. They throw it out and it creates a mess. Don't buy bird seed that contains red milo. It is actually less expensive to pay twice as much for bird seed that has no milo.

Most of the seed that birds do eat is the inedible hull. Hulls are entirely waste. Hulls are heavy. By weight, sunflower seeds are 35-40% hulls, waste, mess. Hulled sunflower seeds probably cost more than double that of seeds that have the hulls on. But there's no mess with hulled seeds.

Also consider offering non-seed alternatives. Fruits and nuts (shelled) are a good supplement to hulled sunflower seeds. Suet is a good choice in cool weather.

[I wrote an article on different kinds of sunflower seeds, including hulled sunflowers.]

Make bird feeding less messy by switching to a tube feeder

Some sparrows habitually kick and scratch the ground while they eat. If they're on a tray feeder, seeds will fly.

Large numbers of birds on the feeder create chaos, and bird seeds may fly!

Tube feeders make bird feeding less messy. Only a few seeds at a time are available to one bird per feeding port. This makes spillage less of a problem.

Photo of a tube feeder. AtlAdGuy from Pixabay
Chickadee at tube feeder

Tube feeders are also more resistant to rain soaked seeds, reducing the chance for moldy seeds. Ground feeding birds will still feed on any spilled seeds under the tube feeder. A bonus to tube feeders is that large birds have trouble coming in and eating all the food at once.

Not all birds eat from tube feeders. Tube feeders attract finches, goldfinches, chickadees, siskins, and nuthatches. 

However, if any seeds do spill out, sparrows, juncos, towhees, and doves may search under the feeder and keep the ground clean.

Feed different foods in different feeders. That way birds will go to the feeder that has the food they want and they won't be picking through and throwing away the seeds they don't want.

Go out there. Give bird feeding another try. This time make it non-messy!

This is an updated rewrite of one of my very first articles:  How to feed birds without making a mess.

I have also written a related article comparing different types of no mess and waste free bird seed. This article also has a couple of my recommended brands of no mess bird seed for you to try.

Related: Why do birds throw seeds out of the feeder?


  1. How do you keep squirrels away?

    1. I have a dog that loves to kill squirrels and I have a fenced backyard so that makes a difference

    2. Keeping squirrels away can be tough.

      The usual suggestions are to place the feeder on a pole at least 5 feet high so they can't jump up. Put a baffle on the pole so they can't climb up. Keep the feeder at least 10 feet away from any tree or building they can climb up and jump sideways to.

      Then there are caged tube feeders that keep large squirrels out. And feeders with weight-sensitive perches that close the feeder port when they get on. People have varying success with these, depending upon how determined the squirrel is to get in!

  2. I have fed birds with left over hardened biscuits and corn tortillas which I cut/break onto tiny pieces which I spread onto the ground. They love them and quickly leave the ground spotless.

    1. That will work for larger starlings and jays and sparrows. But probably will not attract chickadees and finches, which usually don't usually eat bread.

      What species are you attracting?

  3. I was just seeking advice on how to keep my bird feeder from having most of the seed dumped on the ground

    1. I hope this and the related article helped you, Julie.



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