If you love feeding birds, then at some point you probably found yourself asking questions about birdseed. Does bird seed expire? How do I know if seed looks “off”? What’s the best way to store my seed? Should I keep it inside or outside? There are plenty of things to consider, especially if you are a value buyer and look for good deals on large quantities of bird seed. That might leave you wondering where to put it all, and how long it will stay fresh. In this article we will look at all these questions and tips for how to store wild birdseed.
How To Store Wild Birdseed – 3 Ways
While keeping your seed in the bag is always an option, containers make it easier to scoop, can save on storage space, and protect the birdseed from environmental conditions and pests. Here are three of the most popular choices for birdseed storage containers.
This pet food container works great for bird seed. It has an airtight seal to help keep moisture out and the opening is nice and big for easy scooping. You can purchase multiples and stack them on top of each other for space efficiency, which may be handy if you buy a few different types of seed. I did see reviewers saying that it is not completely chew-proof, so this may not stand up to rodents outside and would be a better bet to use indoors.
This galvanized metal bucket is a great choice for outdoor seed storage. Pesky mice and rodents can’t chew through the metal, and it even has clamps that keep the lid firmly locked in place. Reviewers say it can hold a 20 lb bag of bird seed and has rustic charm. Also comes with a scoop.
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This heavy duty plastic tote has the convenience of being on wheels. So if you need to move the container around, you won’t have to drag it. Airtight to help keep out moisture, and the clear body makes your seed level easy to see. Comes in multiple sizes from 12 quarts to 69 quarts. Many reviewers stick their whole bag of seed in here instead of emptying it, so you can use it for “double containment” if you didn’t want to empty the bag out.
Can Birdseed Go Bad?
Unfortunately, yes. Birdseed can “go bad” to the point that it should be thrown away. Seeds exposed to excess moisture, whether standing water or high humidity, can spoil. Seeds contain natural oils, which is what gives them so much of their nutritional value. But too much heat or damp can cause those oils to go rancid. Seeds can also grow mold and fungus that are toxic to birds.
Contamination by insects and rodents is also a common issue. Bugs, able to crawl into small spaces, can get into birdseed bags, lay eggs and cause an infestation. Hungry mice, rats, chipmunks and squirrels looking for a meal have been known to chew through birdseed bags, potentially spoiling the seed with their urine and feces.
Aside from spoilage and contamination, seed can also just get stale. If left too long, those good natural oils dry up leaving the seeds dry, brittle and with little nutritional value to the birds. Many birds will avoid old seeds. Goldfinches are especially known to be picky about eating old, dried out nyjer seeds.
Now let’s look at some storage tips to avoid some of these potential problems.
5 Tips For Storing Wild Birdseed
1. Don’t Stockpile
It can be tempting to buy a huge supply of seed, especially if you hit a good bargain. But a lot of problems with storage space, spoilage and old, dried out seed can be avoided if you try and keep your supply down to what the birds can eat within a few weeks. Especially if you are storing your birdseed outdoors, the usual guide lines are no more than 2 weeks during hot and humid weather, and no more than 4 weeks during cold weather.
2. Regulate Temperature & Humidity
Humidity and dampness can really cause a lot of problems when it comes to spoiling birdseed. The best place to store seed is somewhere cool and dry. When I had the space, I liked to store my seed inside the house or the basement. Keeping seed inside avoids problems with moisture and critter infestation (most of the time). If that isn’t feasible, garages or sheds also provide some environmental stability. If you must keep the seed outdoors, it’s best to store it in a covered container and keep it in the shade.
3. Freeze It
While it may sound strange to keep birdseed in the freezer, many people do this successfully to prolong the life of their seed. If you live in a very humid climate or constantly notice problems with seed becoming damp or buggy, storing seed in the freezer might be a good option. Especially if you have extra freezer space, like a second freezer in the garage. Just remember to use an airtight container and make sure the seed is completely dry before freezing. Seed in the freezer can keep for months or possibly even years.
4. Don’t Mix Old and New
If you consolidate your seed in a bin or container, don’t mix old seed with new seed. Use up the old seed first before opening a new bag. If the older seed had begun to spoil, it could contaminate your whole supply of new seed if mixed together. Plus, keeping your new bag sealed until you absolute need to use it can keep it fresher a little longer.
5. Keep It Clean
Keep the area around your seed storage free from spilt seed. Seed on the ground could alert rodents and other critters to where you are keeping your stash, and entice them to try and break in. You want to keep your containers themselves clean also. If you ever throw out seed because you suspect it spoiled, make sure you thoroughly wash out the container before you refill it with new seed.
As you can see from the photo, our plastic bin didn’t survive outside. I suspect squirrels or chipmunks but who knows! After this, I switched over to all galvanized steel trash cans.
How To Tell Birdseed Has Gone Bad
Before you refill your feeders, take a quick look at your seed supply and keep an eye out for these tell-tale signs of trouble.
- Wet / Damp: if you see seeds sitting in pooled water that is an obvious problem. But also look for condensation on the seeds or the inside of your container. Any kind of damp will breed spoilage.
- Mold & Fungus: Look for anything that appears to be growing on the outside of the seeds. This can show up as a fuzzy or slimy coating on the seeds, the appearance of a powdery coating, or any unusual discoloration.
- Squishy Seeds: All birdseed should feel hard and firm to the touch. If you ever notice the seeds seem soft, squishy or spongy, they’ve gone bad.
- Clumpy Seeds: Dry seeds should flow loosely and easily. If a clump easily breaks apart it is probably ok, but hardened clumps indicate the seeds got wet and there is more likely to be spoilage.
- Bugs: Many different bugs can infest seed such as moths, beetles or spiders. Be on the lookout for any live bugs, but also for dead insects. If a single bug is found it’s probably not a big deal, but keep close watch for signs of more.
- Chewed bags & containers: Rodents can be pretty relentless when trying to get to bird seed. Not only will they chew through the bag you bought the seed in, they may even chew through a plastic container. Look for holes and chew marks.
- Smell: If the oil in the seeds goes rancid, it will give off a sharp, nasty stench. Any smells that remind you of dampness or mustiness also means spoiled seed.
- Sprouting seeds: If you see seeds that have grown any sprouts or shoots, don’t feed these to the birds. Birds won’t eat the seeds once they have begun to sprout. You can, however, toss them in a garden and see if they will grow. Then you might end up with some plants that produce their own birdseed!
- Extra Dried Out Seed: If you notice the shells are cracking and the seed inside looks small and withered, or the seeds feel brittle or look extra dusty, this could indicate the seeds have become too old.
Check Seed Quality In The Store
Another way to ensure your birdseed has a long life is to try and buy quality from the start. It’s not always possible to inspect the seed at the store. However many bags have clear plastic windows that allow you to see the seeds. It doesn’t hurt to look for good color, intact shells and just make sure nothing looks questionable. Once you get the seeds home and open the bag, especially in large ‘value’ bags, you may notice dusty seeds or a lot of sticks. It’s not uncommon to get some twigs in a bag, but an excessive amount of twigs or dust could indicate older seeds and perhaps you can try a different brand next time.
Make It Simple To Transport Your Seed
Whatever container you use, make sure it is easy for you to transfer the seed from the container to the bird feeders. There are all sorts of scoops and easy-pour containers available to help make filling the feeder easier. I have always used these handled containers with collapsible spout. Other people find the combination scoop and funnel the most helpful. Whichever scoop you choose, it’s best to designate it for birdseed use only, to avoid introducing any contaminants into the seed.
Melanie is an environmental scientist, birdwatcher, and amateur photographer. She’s been a birding hobbyist for years and loves feeding and learning about birds of all types. Over the years, Melanie has identified more than 250 bird species, with sightings of the Atlantic Puffin, Hawaiian Goose, and Arctic Tern among her most cherished.