Tweety's Seedy Fall-out: Tending to the build up under a bird feeder

Feeding the birds?

Low down on the clean-up work

We love feeding the birds and the pleasures that come with it: the songs, the colors, the interactions, the young and so much more! The only thing Steven doesn’t love is cleaning up around the bird-feeding areas, but as in-charge of feeder filling and upkeep he’s the expert.

“Clean-up can be more of a chore than you’d imagine,” Steven says, “depending on what foods and types of feeders are involved. We have a number of feeding stations, three of which require ground-level clean-up every few months.”

Here's how Steven keeps up

Station One

Here he has two types of tube feeders hanging from a dead spruce.

We fill the triple tube with a mix of seeds designed for finches: sunflower that’s been hulled and cracked, niger, and a small amount of other tiny seeds.

The single tube holds a mix of sunflower seeds (both striped and black), hulled sunflower seeds and safflower. We call this tube the sacrificial squirrel feeder, because the squirrels prefer it. If we keep it filled, they leave the triple tube alone.

Birds we like, birds we’d rather not have, we welcome and allow them all. Managing the type of food and the kind of perch offered, we keep the mix tipped toward those we like.

Birds we like, birds we’d rather not have, we welcome and allow them all. Managing the type of food and the kind of perch offered, we keep the mix tipped toward those we like.

Station One, favored by goldfinches, haunted by squirrels.

Station One, favored by goldfinches, haunted by squirrels.

The tools we use are a fork, rake, two different scoop shovels (one good for scraping, the other for major scooping) and a wheelbarrow.

The tools we use are a fork, rake, two different scoop shovels (one good for scraping, the other for major scooping) and a wheelbarrow.

Here the first step must be breaking up the dense mat of niger hulls and uneaten seed. It is amazing how rain, snow, thousands of bird steps, and fungal threads can compact small seeds and chaff. Penetrating matted feeder debris may require a fork.

Notice the paper remnants? Since this area was supposed to be part of a path – until Janet realized the error of that plan – it had been covered with newspaper under mulch. The paper layer’s still useful, marking ground level.

Notice the paper remnants? Since this area was supposed to be part of a path – until Janet realized the error of that plan – it had been covered with newspaper under mulch. The paper layer’s still useful, marking ground level.

After we’ve broken the matted section into chunks the whole mess can be scraped up.

After we’ve broken the matted section into chunks the whole mess can be scraped up.

The scrapings almost always fill one wheelbarrow. That must mark either our tolerance level for feeder debris or the scraper’s patience.

The scrapings almost always fill one wheelbarrow. That must mark either our tolerance level for feeder debris or the scraper’s patience.

We use the feeder debris as mulch, choosing very shady areas to spread it since some of the seed may still sprout. Which reminds us to say: the niger seed favored by goldfinches and their kin is not the same “thistle” as the weed thistle gardeners battle. So do not blame a thistle invasion on bird feeders.

A nearby dump site is helpful.

A nearby dump site is helpful.

One of our feeder-debris disposal areas is here between our stick crib and a holly, where sun reaches only for an hour at day’s end.

One of our feeder-debris disposal areas is here between our stick crib and a holly, where sun reaches only for an hour at day’s end.

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Station Two

Station two is a platform feeder. Cardinals, jays, mourning doves and other birds prefer to eat here, or on the ground around it. We fill the jar with the mix that’s in the sacrificial squirrel feeder: striped sunflower seed, black sunflower seed, safflower and a bit of hulled sunflower.

Station Two

Station Two

Squirrels and chipmunks favor Station 2…

…we accept them here.

The ground for several feet in all directions is covered in hulls… and sprouting sunflowers. It’s not matted and can be raked, scooped and spread as mulch in a densely shaded area.

The raking is easy at Station 2.

The raking is easy at Station 2.

This mob of sprouting sunflowers may look like big trouble but many fail, trampled or bitten off by critters. The rest pull or hoe easily. We allow some to grow each year, and enjoy the bright bloom.

This mob of sprouting sunflowers may look like big trouble but many fail, trampled or bitten off by critters. The rest pull or hoe easily. We allow some to grow each year, and enjoy the bright bloom.

All raked, and the fall-out swept from the stone path.

All raked, and the fall-out swept from the stone path.

Another wheelbarrow of debris.

Another wheelbarrow of debris.

Now covered with a half-barrow of clean mulch, the area’s good for a few months

Now covered with a half-barrow of clean mulch, the area’s good for a few months

Killer sunflowers exiled to shade

We spread feeder debris in shade primarily to discourage the viable seed but we have another concern. That’s the allelopathic properties of sunflower. Like black walnuts, sunflowers out-compete nearby plants by loading the soil with chemicals that discourage the growth of other species’ roots. The growth retardants are in all parts of the plant including the seed. So we don’t use these scrapings in a flower garden or around young shrubs, and we don’t try to grow a garden within several feet of a feeder.

Station Three

Station three is a double hook that holds suet and a tube feeder 12’ above ground where Steven can see it from his office window.

Station Three dispenses hulled, cracked sunflower to goldfinches, chickadees, pine siskins and other small birds.

Woodpeckers, nuthatches and the occasional starling visit the suet.

A little debris, but oily.

A little debris, but oily.

There is little debris beneath this station but what’s there is oily. We sweep first, then use a strong stream of water and a brush, or a power washer to clean it away.

We hope our experience helps you

We call the Station Three area our bird patio and although we do sit here the main reason for paving it was knowing we’d be using water to fight seed build-up.

And we write this down to share what we’ve learned and help those just developing bird feeding stations to plan ahead as effectively!

In the area directly below Station Three’s feeders we set the flagstone on concrete, so the water spray we knew we’d use wouldn’t scour the slag from between the stones.

In the area directly below Station Three’s feeders we set the flagstone on concrete, so the water spray we knew we’d use wouldn’t scour the slag from between the stones.

Why clean up under bird feeders?

Why clean up under bird feeders?

One reason here is to see and enjoy our bird patio bird mosaic.

One reason here is to see and enjoy our bird patio bird mosaic.