feeding wild birds
Attracting birds to your backyard or patio can be as simple as setting up a bird feeder with seed. But as with any past-time, there are a few simple steps you can take to make your hobby more enjoyable and rewarding.
On theses pages you will find information on attracting more birds and attracting a variety of birds, what types of feeders to use, how to discourage squirrels and nuisance birds … and much more.
Types of wild bird feeders
Feeders can be as simple as a tray with seed in it, or as fancy as an avian “restaurant” with private seating for a dozen or more. Your choice of feeder(s) plays almost as big a role as your choice of food when it comes to what birds you’ll attract.
- Tube Feeders
Many backyard bird watchers rely on this old standby. A good tube feeder will be well built but made of clear plastic so you can see when you’re running low on food and so the birds can find your feeder. Two big advantages of tube feeders are that they tend to be pretty tidy, and their small, individual perches are perfect for small songbirds but discouraging for the larger birds that many birders aren’t interested in.
- Suet Feeders
Although suet (beef fat) is often sold in plastic mesh bags like the ones grapes and onions come in, this method can have disastrous results for your little visitors; if the mesh tears, they can get tangled. If you want to feed suet you should really buy or make a wire mesh container. They are cheap and a lot more safe.
- Tray Feeders
It’s easy to make a wooden tray for a window sill, and lately people have started selling ornate plastic or metal saucer shaped feeders. Tray feeders can be great landscaping additions, and the birds seem to enjoy landing on a pile of seed. Trays have a big draw back though – they are messy. Especially on a smaller tray, birds can spill more than they eat. The spillage can be a blessing for ground feeders like Mourning Doves. I guess it all depends on how often you’re willing to tend your feeders and what birds you’re welcoming to your home.
- Specialized Feeders
Attracting some birds can take a little extra effort. Humming Birds and Orioles, for example, are nectar eating birds and drink a sugar water mixture from a liquid feeder. Finch feeders are just tube feeders with particularly small perches and feeding holes.
The Right Food for the Right Birds
Some birds eat a wide variety of foods, while others are quite particular. All seed mixes are not created equal. Choosing the proper mix of seeds can help attract the birds you want, and discourage those you don’t. Here is a list of the most common seeds, and what birds they attract.
- Sunflower Seed
Black-capped/Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Evening Grosbeak, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay.
Dark-eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, House Finch, Pine Suskin, House Sparrow.
Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird.
- Cracked Corn
Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird.
Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Starling, Black-capped/Carolina Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch.
Dealing with Squirrels and Other Pests
Once you start placing food outside regularly, you’re sure to attract more than you’ve bargained for. Squirrels and chipmunks are likely to wreak the most havoc on your feeders, blue jays and other large birds will chase away smaller song birds, and cats and hawks will make a good effort at eating the birds you have attracted!
In addition to eating all the food, squirrels and chipmunks will destroy your feeders. The first trick to protecting a feeder is to mount it far enough away from tree limbs so that squirrels can’t make the leap – about eight feet.
If a feeder is mounted on a pole, you can buy or make a baffle which stops the rodents from climbing. Baffles should be cone or umbrella shaped. Store bought baffles are usually plastic, but you can make your own from sheet metal like tin. A disposable roasting pan is easier to cut than sheet metal and actually works quite well for as long as it lasts.
A baffle needs to be mounted high enough up the pole so that the pests can’t jump over it from the ground – at least two and a half feet. You can also protect a hanging feeder by placing a baffle on the support wire. Again you can buy one or make your own. For a long time, discarded phonograph records were the way to go; this still works as well as ever, if you can find one.
In your effort to attract and befriend birds, you might unwittingly expose them to danger. The most likely threat will come from the neighborhood cat, but hawks and other birds of prey might find your sanctuary irresistible as well. Protecting your birds from predators requires walking a fine line between providing the birds with nearby cover to escape, while setting up a feeding area that is open enough that the birds can see danger coming. Because every backyard is unique, we can’t give a specific number of feet from the feeder that cover should be. You should just keep predators in mind when you set up your feeders. For cats in particular, you can try making a chicken wire fence about two to three feet tall around the feeding area.
Nuisance birds are in the eye of the beholder. We’ve got a particular gripe with blue jays. They seem like bad neighbors. They’re noisy and the terrorize our other birds. A dozen or more at a time have been known to gather at Terrapin!
We can recommend three strategies for discouraging nuisance birds. Try using selective feeders that appeal to the birds you’re most interested in. Choose your food carefully. Some foods, like cracked corn, are of little use in attracting song birds, but bigger birds thrive on it. If you are having trouble with a particular species, try to figure out if there is something in the feed that is attracting it. We have had some success placing cracked corn in separate feeders away from our main bird watching area. Of course this method only works if you have enough space.
Pairing the right bird feeder with the right bird food
TUBE FEEDER WITH BLACK OIL SUNFLOWER
titmice redpolls, pine siskins
ADDING A TRAY TO THE TUBE FEEDER WILL ALSO ATTRACT
crossbills purple finches
white-throated sparrow house finches
TRAY OR PLATFORM FEEDER — WITH MILLET
doves house sparrows
white-throated sparrows tree sparrows
white-crowned sparrows chipping sparrows
TRAY OR PLATFORM FEEDER — WITH CORN
starlings house sparrows
juncos bobwhite quail
doves ring-necked pheasants
PLATFORM FEEDER OR TUBE FEEDER AND TRAY — with PEANUTS
grackles house finches
titmice house sparrows
mourning doves white-throated sparrows
NIGER THISTLE FEEDER WITH TRAY
goldfinches house finches
purple finches redpolls
pine siskins doves
chickadees song sparrows
dark-eyed juncos white-throated sparrows
cedar waxwings yellow-breasted chats
HANGING SUET FEEDER
PEANUT BUTTER SUET
HANGING PEANUT FEEDER
Best birdhouses & bird baths
Some birds prefer boxes in trees, like Black Capped-Chickadees, while others like boxes on posts in open meadows, like Tree Swallows. Hanging boxes are good for bold little species like House Wrens, but be sure to hang the box so that the hole faces slightly downward. Otherwise, rain will get in through the hole.
So lets talk about the features that a box should and shouldn’t have. A good box should have ventilation near the roof, the roof should hang out over the entrance to provide shade and protection from the rain, and there should be NO PERCH at the entrance hole, the occupants do NOT need one.
The traditional birdhouse that most people think of has a perch under the hole, but usually all a perch does is give a predator or an aggressive bird a place to block the entrance and harass the occupants. Sparrows and Starlings will kill other birds and their babies in order to take over the nesting site.
Ideally a box should have small (say 1/8 to 1/4 inch) holes in the bottom to provide drainage in wet weather. If you find a box that looks otherwise perfect, you can drill holes like these yourself. Also a good bird box should have a roof or wall that can be unscrewed or unlatched and removed so that you can clean the box.
A nest left sitting can attract parasites that make the box unattractive to prospective tenants, plus, a bird is more apt to go find a nice clean empty box somewhere rather than spend a day or two tearing up and discarding a filthy old nest. Generally you should clean out a bird box shortly after the family moves out. Early fall is a good time to do it too.
Avoid painted boxes or boxes treated with any chemicals (do NOT use pressure treated lumber to build your box). Birds will actually favor a box that is somewhat weathered. Finally a bird box should have grooves, rungs, or steps embedded on the inside beneath the entrance hole. Growing baby birds will need these to clamber up to the entrance when a parent arrives with food.
When considering placement of your box, I can offer only three thoughts:
1. Birds seem to favor boxes that get a good amount of sun during the day.
2. When mounting boxes on trees, many have had more success when the box is NOT on the main trunk.
3. Boxes should be placed an adequate distance from each other and from your house. Those near your house are likely to only fetch House Wrens and House Sparrows.
Most birds who are nesting have very large territories that they defend, for example, Chickadees will chase away others of their species in an area around their nest of about 2.5 acres in size.
Needless to say, its unlikely you’ll have two families of Chickadees nesting in boxes on your property unless you have a VERY large property. But different species of birds may use boxes relatively close to one another. Its likely though, that most of your boxes will be unoccupied most of the time.
Fall is upon us and you may wish to consider putting out a roost box or boxes for your birds. Roost boxes differ from birdhouses in that they are much larger so as to accommodate more birds, have perches inside the box for the birds to sleep on, and have an entrance hole at the bottom-front of the box. The placement of the hole at the bottom causes heat from the birds’ bodies to be trapped inside and keep them warm on cold winter nights.
A good roost box should be about 9-12 inches square (23 – 30 cm) and about three feet high (90 cm). You can insert dowels through holes drilled in the sides to form the perches. Use carpenter’s glue to affix the dowels in place and leave no gaps around them. Quarter inch diameter dowels should be fine (for those of you in metric land, a 1 cm to 1.5 cm diameter dowel would probably be okay.) Also, be sure that you stagger the dowels, don’t line them up one directly beneath the other, or the sleeping birds will poop on the ones beneath them, which can spread infection and hey, who wants to get pooped on anyway?
The entrance hole should be about three inches (8 cm) wide and should be no more than 2 inches (5 cm) about the base of the box. You’ll probably want to put a removable lid on the box, latched securely in place, so that the box can be periodically opened and cleaned (remember that bit about poop?)
Mount your roost box about 8-10 feet (2.5 – 3 m) above the ground and you may wish to consider a cat guard or squirrel guard to protect the sleeping birds from predation. During cold winter nights, the birds will slow down their metabolisms and allow their body temperature to drop. They are quite vulnerable in this state to a crafty predator.
You might think that in winter time you should put your birdbath away, but in fact its more important than ever to provide water sources for your yard birds in winter. As water sources freeze over, a bird’s only choice is often consumption of snow.
Melting this snow expends precious heat from the bird’s body that the animal can ill-afford to lose. Thus, you will find that your bird bath will probably get as many if not more visits in winter, if you keep it filled with fresh water.
As the days get colder you’ll find your birdbath freezes quicker and that getting the ice out of it requires a lot of work. There are two solutions to this problem (other than putting the birdbath away until spring.)
The cheap solution is to bring the bird bath inside each night. My birdbath (which I recently upgraded to a shallower cement model) comes in two parts, the bowl and the pedestal.
Each night I bring the bowl into my house and place it in an old metal tub (don’t put it on a porcelain surface like your bathtub or bathroom sink because it will scratch the surface). By the time I get up in the morning the ice has melted and evaporated and my bath is ready to be taken out and filled.
When I fill it, I use hot water so that it will stay unfrozen for that much longer. (And on bitterly cold mornings, birds can get a needed heat boost by sitting in the warm bath.)
The more expensive solution is to buy a heated bath, or a birdbath heater. These tend to be a bit pricey, and of course require you to run electricity out to your bath via an extension cord or whatnot. You may have reasons for not wanting to do this.
Birdseed and Feeding Birds
Generally you can buy just about any old birdseed, but naturally different kinds of seeds will attract different kinds of birds. If you just want to get small songbirds into your yard, a bag of Wagner’s Wild Bird Food or Audubon Gold will do nicely. If you care, you can improve your chances of getting certain birds by mixing your own seed.
The feeder at the right here contains White Millet and a little bit of Thistle seed. Neither of these seeds are very popular with squirrels, but small birds like sparrows and juncos seem to love it. Its the fave of my local sparrows and they can polish off this feeder in just a few days.
Plain old millet is hard to find by itself though, so you may have to buy a regular bird mix and use that, or sift it to get the millet seeds out. Speaking of Thistle seed, here is our thistle seed feeder, which we fill with nothing but Thistle seed. These seeds are high in oil and energy. This is a favorite treat of House Finches, Goldfinches, and Pine Siskins.
So far we’ve been unsuccessful at bringing in the latter two (to feed), and I suspect its because we have very few pines in our area, and no wild thistle. My friend gave me a few thistle plants to grow in my garden, but they didn’t survive transplanting. We’ll have to try that again.
There are other types of seed that are good to have but most important are sunflower seeds. You can get three types, Black Oil, Striped, or Sunflower Hearts. Usually if you buy sunflower seeds to eat in the shell, they’re striped sunflower seeds. These seeds are popular with large birds, squirrels, and small birds. In fact its hard to find birdies who DON’T like sunflower seeds.
The Black Oil seeds are favored by Chickadees who seem to prefer them even over the striped variety. In fact they’re so delicious, and Chickadees are so bold, its possible to entice them to feed from your hand with a handful of black oil sunflower seeds.
Finally, hearts are sunflower seeds not in the shell. Anybody and everybody will eat these, but I suspect they’re great for birds trying to feed their young. There’s much less work involved if its a seed you don’t have to crack open, hence you can feed your young more rapidly and efficiently.
Which brings us to cracked corn kernels. Squirrels, Cardinals, and Blue Jays will eat these, and its good to put some in your seed to distract them away from other seeds that the smaller birds can eat.
hen there’s peanuts, (not in the shell), many birds like these including Chickadees, but peanuts can be expensive and squirrels will raid your bird feeders for them so you may want to skip out on these.
When I mix seed I generally start with five parts of a generic birdseed mix as a base. To this I’ll add one and one-half parts millet (or commercial finch food), one part black oil sunflower seeds, one part sunflower hearts, one part cracked corn, one-half part safflower seed, and then a small amount of thistle just in case a hungry finch drops by.
If I can afford to, I will sometimes add one-half part shelled peanuts. Occasionally I will supplement a single day’s mixture with stale breadcrumbs, crushed popcorn, crushed crackers, or other stale grain snacks.When placing your feeders make sure that they aren’t too low to the ground or accessible to cats and other predators.
Feeders should be visible from the air in order to initially lure the birds in… you may even want to start with an open platform feeder instead of a covered one, so that the seed is more visible. When buying a feeder try to get one that is very sturdy else the squirrels with demolish it by chewing it to pieces. I like wooden feeders, though plastic ones reinforced with metal guards around the feeding holes, and also caged feeders are highly recommended.
You may want to consider building a platform feeder. I made this crude one simply by nailing a large square board on top of an existing feeder pole. In fact I added a raised nail to the center of the platform in case I wanted to anchor a suet-stick, a corncob, or a piece of fruit there.
Feeders of this variety are visible from great heights which makes them a good attractant for birds that are otherwise just passing over. Also, as they are easy to get into and quite large, it gives the squirrels and larger birds on your property something more constructive than crowding out the small birds as they try to cram their way in to a smaller feeder. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, platform feeders are VERY easy to clean.
Also, when putting out seed, don’t forget to scatter some on the driveway or on the open ground for ground-feeding birds that dislike going to feeders. I’ve been experimenting with Safflower seed, and have come to the conclusion that chickadees and finches will eat safflower, and for some reason titmice seem to favor it.
I have noticed a few occasions where birds picking up safflower seeds will hold them in their mouths, and manipulate them with (I assume) their tongues… but not eat them. I assume that either the birds who do this (so far only finches) like the flavor of the safflower hull, or are simply licking salt off then seed’s surface. In any event, birds will eat safflower, but it may take them a while before they try it.
We do get hummingbirds in this region, although we’ve been unsuccessful in getting them to show up in our yard. The best type of food for attracting our local species, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, is a sugar water mixture.
You can start with 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, but should gradually decrease it to about 1 to 6 or even 1 to 8 after you’ve succeeded in attracting hummers. Hummers can suffer a sometimes fatal liver disorder if they get too much sugar.
Also, you should empty out and clean the hummer feeder every few days, otherwise you run the risk of having a certain variety of fungus grow in the sugar-water which is also fatal to hummingbirds. Stick to sugar-based mixtures, honey can be fatal to hummers, and artificial sweeteners can lead to undernourished birds.
Beware! Hummingbird feeders attract ants and other sweet-loving insects.
Hummers seem to favor red flowers, so you MAY want to get a red colored feeder, or plant certain types of red flowers in your yard to attract them. (Flowers that purportedly work well are Nasturtium, Fuschia, Bee Balm, Honeysuckle, and Petunias.)
Do NOT use food coloring to dye your nectar. Clear sugar-water should be just fine.
Suet will attract all types of birds, most notably downy woodpeckers and nuthatches. Its also oft consumed by starlings, chickadees, and titmice. I tend to avoid suet in the summer as it tends to be much messier to handle (too warm) and the birds don’t eat as much of it in that season. In fall and spring it makes a great supplement for the birds in your yard. In winter, it can be a lifesaver.
I often buy commercial suet at Walmart. You’ll find it in the wild bird food section. It is sold in blocks about 6″x6″ by 1″ thick (15 cm x 15 cm by 2.5 cm thick) and looks like what it is: animal fat with bird seed and other goodies cooked into it. Essentially the manufacturer melts the fat, mixes it with birdseed, berries, or whatever, pours it into molds and lets it harden.
Out of the package suet feels slimy and slippery and can’t be a trick to handle. To minimize this, store your suet in the freezer. The colder the suet is, the easier it is to handle (much like marvel meal). Also, freezing keeps it fresh.
Commercial suet can be placed in store bought suet feeders… you’ve probably seen these before, they look like tiny wire cages with one end that opens, and a small chain dangling from the same end.
They are shaped and sized like a commercial suet block (only slightly larger) and are often colored black. Insert a suet block into the cage and then thread the chain through to the opposite end so that the feeder will hang without the door opening. At this point its ready to hang! The suet feeder shown at the right has a suet block in it which is only a few days old. You can see by its rough edges that the local birds have been at it.
There are specialty suet feeders which are sized to fit the blocks but only one face is covered with cage-like material, the rest of the feeder is enclosed. These are designed to hang with the cage-face facing the ground, so that birds need to hang upside down to feed there. These are hailed as “Starling-Proof” since Starlings apparently are unable or unwilling to feed upside down, and are known to mob suet feeders. If you have a real starling problem, you may wish to look into this type of suet feeder.
You can make your own suet feed as well. Simply start with the basic ingredient, animal fat, and melt it down. You can get this by saving drippings from cooked bacon, steak, and other fatty foods. Then take the melted suet and mix whatever ingredients you like into it. Most people just throw in birdseed, peanuts, cornmeal, sometimes peanut butter, or whatever.
You should feel free to experiment: little bits of bacon and crumbs of bread would probably be nice supplements. You can then pour the mixture into a mold–many people use the plastic packaging that they get commercial suet in, this is just the right size for the standard suet feeder.
You can experiment with whatever type of mold you want, coffee or soup cans, the bottom of a quart milk carton or bottle, or let the suet cool to the point where it can be rolled into balls and put in mesh bags for hanging. You can even take a cylinder of suet (say from a Pringles can) and mount it on a stick which stands upright. Once your mixture is in its mold, store it in the freezer to keep it fresh and to help it harden. Once hard its ready to hang.
Marvel Meal is a peanut-butter based food you can make for birds which is very nutritious and very tasty. Birds (and squirrels) LOVE Marvel Meal.
I can’t take credit for Marvel Meal, it was invented by John Terres, the author of the aforementioned book Songbirds in Your Garden, who knew that birds loved peanut butter, but also knew that they could choke themselves to death on it because it was so sticky. Hence Marvel Meal, which is much less sticky and still appetizing to birds.
Here’s the formula:
- one part peanut butter
- one part shortening
- one part flour
- four parts cornmeal
That’s basically it. Mix up the wet stuff then mix up the dry stuff, then mix the wet and dry together and you get a doughy brown substance which is still somewhat sticky but not as much as peanut butter alone. M
Marvel Meal should be refrigerated to keep it fresh and as an added bonus its less sticky and easier to work with when cold. You can slice it into small chunks and put it in your feeder trays, smear it onto pine cones and hang them from trees, smear it into the bark of trees, or just leave lumps of it on the ground (it will attract ants if you do this!) The birds and squirrels will find it and love it.
I usually put three or four tiny pieces of Marvel Meal into each of our feeders each morning. Its generally all gone within minutes.
Hand feeding wild birds
In my first year of birding I have so far succeeded in hand feeding Canada Geese (boy they’re big!), Mallards, and Black-capped Chickadees. Hand feeding takes a great deal of patience, persistence and luck.
- If you want to try your hand at hand feeding, I’d suggest the following plan of action:
- After filling the feeders remain in the yard. Pick a nice spot to relax and read a book. After awhile the birds will become used to your presence and be more bold around you.
- When birds are around you, don’t make sudden moves, and DO speak often in a normal conversational tone to get them acquainted with your voice.
- After having done this for a few weeks, try hand feeding just before you fill the feeders (when the birds are hungriest). Stand very still with your arm outstretched holding a handful of the choicest seed you have.
- Black-capped Chickadees are among the boldest of all and eventually you may succeed in bringing them in to hand feed.
The bird feeder mess
One recent visitor to my page expressed a cautionary note about mixing seed. His primary complaint was the resulting mess. Feeding birds can be messy in many ways, though primarily the problem is seed husks. Birds will crack open millet, sunflower, and even thistle seeds, eat the heart, and discard the husks. This results in a layer of seed husks in a circle usually about six feet in diameter around your feeders.
I recommend placing your feeder in a spot where you don’t care about the mess. Some people are very interested in having a spotless yard, though, so this may not be an option. Here are some various messes you may run up against, and what you can do about them (aside from putting out less seed!)
Discarded seed husks around the base of the feeder
What to do:
1. Position the feeder where the mess is unimportant, like near your compost pile, or invisible, like over a shrub.
2. Switch to husk less seeds, like peanut, walnut, and sunflower hearts. Many pet stores sell “no-mess” birdseed, which is composed primarily of sunflower hearts.
3. Alternatively: switch to non-seed foods. One reader has found that Purina-One dog food works well, and birds do enjoy fruit like seedless raisins… these are good no-mess foods. See the section on Marvel Meal below for a no-mess food you can make yourself!
Discarded seeds around the base of the feeder
Birds tend to root around in the feeder looking for the seeds they like, and this activity tends to scatter on the ground the ones they don’t. Also, squirrels are awful culprits in this way. A squirrel won’t eat thistle or millet unless absolutely necessary… so if he’s in your bird feeder, you can expect him to burrow into the feed looking for sunflower seeds and dumping millet over the side wholesale.
In many cases this mess is cleaned up by ground feeding birds. (We have a tribe of 23 rock doves that cluster under our various feeders and pick the ground clean.) But if the species in your yard are not balanced with boreal and ground feeders, you may have many discarded seeds.
If none of the options below appeals to you, your only choice is to scoop up and discard (in the TRASH) the fallen seed once a week. This is important because seed exposed to the weather (particularly rain) over many days can grow a fungus that will make birds fatally ill. In addition, this illness can spread to your other birds. Its a bad scene.
What to do:
1. Find out what seeds are NOT being discarded, and use a mix that is appropriate for the species in your yard. As these species may change from year to year, you may just wish to settle on ONE commonly enjoyed seed, like sunflower or peanut.
2. If the problem is only squirrels, invest in a squirrel feeder, or you can attempt to use a baffle.
3. Try using a large platform feeder with a fairly high rim (2 inches), and piling the food in the center. This way when the squirrels and birdies burrow, the seed tends to stay in the feeder. **NOTE: You will need to clean the husks out of this feeder every time you fill it.
Seeds or seed husks scattered all over your yard
If this is happening, its probably because the birds are picking up seeds at your feeder and taking them elsewhere to eat them, in so doing they may drop seeds, and of course will drop the husks wherever they finish a seed.
Not all birds like to stay at the feeder for fear of being struck down by predators, or harassed by more aggressive (or hungry) birds… Cardinals, for example, tend to be shy, and will skitter away from even the merest house finch. So generally, the problem is one of location.
What to do:
1. Move your feeder to a spot where birds feel less exposed. Proximate to a tree is a good choice. (Remember if you put it under a tree, birds passing through your property are less likely to see it.) That way the birds will be more likely to fly just to that tree, rather than each to his or her favorite dining area. Therefore, seed and husk spilling should be minimized to the area near the feeder and the tree.
Seeds sprouting in your yard.
This really should not happen. I’ve experimented with planting various birdseed’s and have never gotten them to sprout, and have also not yet found strange plants growing near my feeders. I therefore conclude that the seeds have been cooked or treated so that they will not grow.
If you are having this problem, you should switch to a different brand of commercial birdseed. If you buy your seed in a wholesale grain store, you may be buying untreated seeds which you will then have to treat yourself. I am inexperienced in this area, but there must be books on the subject. (If you know of one, or have info on treating birdseed, let me know and I’ll include it here.) If for some reason you cannot switch brands, OR treat the seed, you may want to try to localize the problem by repositioning the feeder as described above.
If the feeder is already perfectly positioned, the problem may be untreated and undigested birdseed sprouting from bird droppings (which will be scattered!) This may be the result of birds who do not have enough grit in their crops to grind up the seeds they eat.
Perhaps you live in an area where suitable grit is hard to find
What to do:
1. Enrich your own seed mix with grit. A good mixture should be about 5% – 7% grit. Coarse white sand and/or crushed oyster shells make suitable grits. Check your local pet store and see if they sell grit for birds. Good wild birdseed brands may already include some grit, so switching brands may solve or reduce the problem… check the ingredients before you buy.
2. One reader from Fresno, CA has informed me that his experiments with birdseed show them to almost ALWAYS sprout. Thus far he has found that heating the seeds in an oven at 250 (F) for 15 minutes will prevent them from sprouting.