When you put out seed, does it seem like more is ending up on the ground than what’s being eaten? Birds tossing seed to the ground is often referred to as shoveling, and it’s very common with feeders.
Birds flick seed because of seed quality, food preferences, and foraging habits. Sometimes it’s just an accident too! While ground feeders will eat seed thrown to the ground, too much can attract pests like rats. The best way to prevent this is to put out better seed, and to put out less seed at a time.
We’ll be covering the reasons birds flick seeds out of feeders – and what to do about it – in more detail below!
Top 6 Reasons Birds Throw Seeds Out of Feeders
1. They Remove Poor Quality Seeds
Birds pick through seeds to find the highest-quality options. In any bag of birdseed, there’s going to be a ton of seeds that are immature or don’t contain any meat. Birds can identify low-quality food before eating and will toss these seeds away.
These lower-quality seeds are more present in cheap seed mixes. Take a look through your seed before putting it out next time. It may be hard to tell, but try to see if there are a lot of empty shells mixed in with the seed. If so, this is likely why so much is going overboard.
2. They Remove Seeds They Don’t Like
Many birds will eat nothing but their favorite seed in a blend, and toss the rest to the side. This is especially common if the mix is full of filler foods like milo and millet. Use high-quality, nutritionally dense foods like:
- Striped Sunflower Seeds
- Black-Oil Sunflower Seeds
- Safflower Seeds
- Thistle Seed
- Fruit Pieces
Also, remember different birds have different preferences. Finches and other small birds love thistle seed. But, many large birds will toss it away in favor of larger seeds.
Meanwhile, cardinals enjoy safflower seeds. Yet, smaller birds will toss them away because they can’t crack their tough shells.
Keep an eye on what birds come to your feeders and what foods are getting tossed. This should give you some clues on how to adjust.
If you see a lot of small birds tossing larger seeds, consider putting more thistle out. Some small birds might avoid thistle, but enjoy other foods like black oil sunflower seeds.
If you see a lot of big birds tossing small seeds, use larger seeds and nuts. Experimenting like this can help you waste less seed in the long run!
3. They Avoid Moldy or Germinating Seeds
If it rains, seeds can quickly become wet which leads to mold and germination. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, germination is when a seed begins to sprout. Birds aren’t fans of sprouted or moldy seeds. So, they’ll pick through these seeds to find any in the batch that are still edible.
If birds do happen to eat moldy seeds, they can get very sick.
If it rains while you have seed out, it’s best to just replace the seed instead of letting it sit. Birds will likely just end up throwing it out of the feeder anyway. Better to give them fresh seeds they’ll actually enjoy!
4. They Kick Seeds Out of Habit
Ground feeders like sparrows and towhees are the culprits for this behavior! When foraging for food, these birds will kick up ground covering to find food. Although it’s unnecessary on a feeder, they will still perform this kicking motion.
So, next time you see one of these birds at your feeder, take a closer look to see if they’re kicking it around. Most birds that do this are very small, so consider putting out larger food to stop them. You could also consider putting out a table-style ground feeder to appeal to them instead.
5. They’re Separating/Spitting Out Inedible Hulls
Many times the seeds that end up on the ground aren’t full seeds at all! Instead, birds may be eating the seeds and spitting out the hulls onto the ground.
Birds may also be spitting the hulls back into the feeder, which other birds are tossing over the edge later.
Examine the ground near your feeder to check this. If you see a lot of split seeds that don’t appear to have a kernel in them, then this is likely what’s happening. While the mess can be frustrating, at least you know birds are eating the seeds you’re putting out! But, if most of the seeds appear whole, then it’s likely one of the other issues on the list.
6. Accidental Seed Spilling
Don’t be so quick to get mad at our feathered friends for spilling your seed – it might be an accident!
This is especially common with platform feeders that swing around a lot when birds land on them. If your feeder’s filled to the brim, a bit of seed is bound to go over when a bigger bird lands on the edge. Consider pole-mounting platform feeders from the bottom to prevent excessive swinging
A quick fix to this is not filling your feeder up so much. You could also try securing your feeder so it doesn’t swing around so much.
The Consequences of Seeds on the Ground
Luckily, a lot of the seed on the ground will get eaten by ground-feeding birds like sparrows and mourning doves. While this will be fine for most people, some people see these birds as pests and want to keep them away.
Some more universally unwelcome creatures seed on the ground attract squirrels and rats.
To keep these pests from infesting your yard, you’ll have to regularly clean up the seed on the ground. You could do this every day depending on the amount of seed spilled, or if you’re worried about pests. But, doing this once or twice a week should be enough if there isn’t too much seed being spilled.
Every few weeks I vacuum stray seed and seed remnants beneath the feeders. You heard me right – I vacuum the seed! In fact, I have a small shop vac that I use exclusively for this purpose.
Tips on How to Prevent Seed Wastage
Start by assessing the quality of the seed you’re putting out. If it’s full of filler like wheat and millet or empty husks, consider switching to a higher-quality blend.
Start by thinking about which birds are most common at your feeder and those you’d like to attract. Put out foods that cater to these species!
If your seed gets wet, be sure to change it out so birds aren’t picking through moldy or germinated seed. Put out less seed at once so it all gets used up before it goes bad. By putting out less seed at once, less is likely to spill by accident.
Less seed will also make ground feeders less likely to kick much over. For ground birds, consider installing a table feeder for them to use instead. While this won’t stop them from kicking seed, it will keep them away from your hanging feeders.
A bit of seed is always going to get wasted when feeding birds but by following these tips, you’ll waste a little less!
Why do Birds Waste Food?
Birds will often waste food by picking out their favorite seeds in a mixture. Birds will also toss aside empty shells and moldy/germinated seeds. Some species kick food around while feeding which can knock some to the ground. Finally, they’ll also knock some seed off the feeder by accident sometimes!
Do Birds Eat One Seed at a Time?
Yes, birds will only eat one seed at a time. But, some birds like Jays and nuthatches can carry many seeds at once and hide them away for later. This is a process called “caching”.
Birds will mainly throw seeds over the edge of a feeder to pick out their favorite food. They may also do it to remove low-quality seeds. Or, kicking food around may be part of their foraging behavior. Sometimes it’s just an accident!
Birds wasting seeds can be frustrating and can even attract pests. But, there is a lot you can do to address the problem. Our 2 main tips for preventing seed waste are to put out higher-quality seeds, and put out less seed at once.
Any questions or concerns? Let us know in the comments below!