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Why Do Birds Throw Seed Out of Feeders? (6 Reasons)

Putting out a bird feeder for wild birds can be fun to watch the visitors you get. It also promotes better health for birds who don’t have to stress about food availability. However, you might have noticed the mess it creates on the ground with plenty of seed being wasted. So, why do birds throw seeds out of feeders? Are they doing it accidentally?

You might be surprised to find out that they are doing it on purpose most of the time. Read on to learn more about why and how you might prevent it, since it can make quite the mess in a nicely manicured lawn.

Why do birds throw seed out of feeders? 6 reasons

Birds are clever animals that know what they like to eat when feeding. Let’s find out the 6 main reasons why they throw seed out of the feeder.

1. Birds remove poor quality seeds from feeders

Bird seeds that we purchase to put in bird feeders are harvested by a machine. This means that there is a mix of quality. Some seeds are mature, some aren’t quite ready for eating, and others have nothing in them for the bird to feed.

Birds are able to figure out the difference between seeds with meaty centers. So, before opening them, they test the seeds and discard any low-quality or empty seeds.

Image by danuta niemiec from Pixabay

2. Birds throw seeds they don’t like out of feeders

Some of the cheaper bird seed packages contain seeds that birds don’t enjoy eating. For example, most birds don’t like wheat, red milo, or cracked corn seeds. If you want a birdseed mix with popular seeds that won’t be tossed out, try something with mostly black oil sunflower seeds or proso millet. Peanut feeders are another popular choice.

The size of the seeds can also influence what type of seeds birds will reject. For example, tree-feeder birds typically prefer larger pieces and aren’t interested in smaller seeds.

3. Birds are throwing the seed hulls

Generally, birds don’t eat the entire seed. Instead, they feast on the kernel, which is the meat of the seed and will discard the hull, which is the fibrous outer covering. For this reason, you might find that what they toss out of the bird feeder are the two halves of the hull they aren’t eating.

Birds such as finches and sparrows can chew on seeds by moving their jaws up, down, and sideways in a circle. This allows their tongue and bill to split the seeds, eat only the kernel, and let the hull fall from their mouth.

house sparrow eating seeds on the ground

4. Birds kick seeds out of habit

Ground-feeding bird species such as fox sparrows or towhees have developed a habit of kicking over ground cover or leaf litter as they search for food. Sometimes they can’t stop this habit, even when getting on a bird feeder and end up kicking off perfectly good seeds. You can try to put out fewer seeds each day to encourage the ground feeders to look for seeds on the ground around the feeder.

5. Birds remove germinating or moldy seeds

While birds can eat wet seeds, there are some complications that come from seeds getting wet or staying wet for long periods in the feeder. Bird seeds that get soaked through can start to germinate and grow. Birds won’t eat germinating seeds and will throw them out of the feeder.

Birds will also throw out any moldy seeds with bacteria growing on them. If you find no birds are visiting your feeder, it could be because there is a batch of moldy seeds that have been wet for too long.

6. Birds accidentally spill seeds from feeders

Yes, sometimes it is just by accident! When pulling one seed from a feeder, they might knock off other seeds. Active birds feeding around the feeder can also accidentally drop seeds.

How to stop birds from throwing seeds on the ground

Flock of Goldfinches enjoying my Nyjer feeder during the winter.

For starters, make sure you are buying good-quality birdseed mixes. You can also do some research on the bird species that frequent your yard and select specific seeds they prefer instead of buying a mix. For example, Goldfinches prefer nyjer seeds and are one of the few species that will eat them.

Another way to make your bird feeding experience less messy is by having a tube feeder instead of a tray feeder. In this case, birds get only a few seeds at a time and are less likely to knock off seeds accidentally or kick them off from habit. You can also attach something under your feeder to catch fallen seeds to prevent a mess on the ground.

Make sure to monitor if the seeds have gotten wet to avoid germination or mold. Some bird feeders are enclosed or have setups where you can place a roof on top of the feeder to prevent seeds from getting wet when it rains.