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How to Recycle Birdseed

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Sunflower Seedlings

Recycle birdseed by letting fallen seeds grow.

Eran Finkle

Once you fill your backyard bird feeders and the birds eat the seed, the cycle of feeding the birds is not complete. A lot of seed is inadvertently wasted, and knowing how to recycle birdseed has many benefits for birds as well as birders.

Why Recycle Birdseed

Even many of the most responsible, dedicated birders don’t consider how to recycle birdseed when they initially fill their feeders. There are many reasons to think past that first use of the seed, however, and recycling birdseed has great benefits.

  • Lower Cost: By recycling birdseed, you are able to reuse seeds that have been spilled rather than simply refilling feeders with additional seed, therefore saving money on birdseed.

  • Attract More Birds: The different ways to recycle birdseed can attract unique birds to your yard because of the way the seed is presented. This can make backyard birding even more rewarding as you help feed even more birds.

  • Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Recycling seed helps you reduce your carbon footprint as a birder because you don’t need to purchase as much seed, so less seed is being transported on your behalf.

Three Ways to Recycle Birdseed

Birdseed can be recycled in three main ways. Fortunately, it is easy to do all three no matter what type of feeding setup you prefer.

  1. Use Seed Catchers: Place your initial birdseed in a hanging or pole-mounted hopper feeder and attach a seed catcher beneath it. You might use a mesh or wooden platform or a cloth hoop, but whichever you choose you will give the birds an additional place to feed while you prevent the seed from being tossed to the ground. For the best results, choose a seed catcher at least twice the diameter of your bird feeder and hang it 6-8 inches below the feeder’s base. Hanging it too close prevents birds from feeding on the caught seed, and placing it further away reduces its effectiveness in catching all the seed birds spill.

  2. Allow Ground Feeding: Create a bird feeding station beneath your hanging or pole-mounted feeders to encourage ground feeding birds such as dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves and California quail to take advantage of spilled seed. While these birds will forage through the grass for spilled seed, they can be much more effective if the area beneath the feeder is bare ground, mulch or gravel. You can also consider using artificial turf beneath the feeders; the ground feeding birds won’t mind and will enjoy the easy access to seed. If you do have grass beneath your feeder, rake the area every few days to keep the spilled seed loose and accessible.

  3. Grow Birdseed: Growing your own birdseed is a fantastic way to recycle seed. Plant sunflower or white millet seeds directly from your birdseed mix, and as the seeds ripen the birds will discover this natural food source and exploit it rapidly. If you wish to grow seed for winter use, you may need to cover the plants with netting, but once mature the seeds can be easily stored. Alternatively, allow the seeds to dry on the plants and wherever seeds fall and sprout you will have even more birdseed plants to harvest. Once the plants are dried and dead, add them to a compost pile or brush pile to recycle them further.

Tips for Recycling Birdseed

Recycling birdseed can be fast, easy and efficient. To make the most of your recycling efforts…

  • Choose your seed selection based on your backyard birds’ feeding preferences so you don’t struggle to recycle seeds they’re not interested in.

  • Opt for a no-waste or no-grow birdseed mix that lacks the hulls and filler birds often avoid. Not only will birds not eat these items, but accumulations of them beneath your bird feeder can damage the grass and create unsanitary conditions for ground feeding birds.

  • Recycle other foods for the birds, such as providing treats of kitchen scraps in your feeders. Birds don’t care about expiration dates, staleness or leftovers, and this is a great way to ensure the food doesn’t go to waste.

  • Check your feeders regularly to be sure that seed is flowing evenly through the feeding ports. A loose or inappropriately sized port can spill excess seed and empty the feeder more quickly without the birds eating it all.

  • Do not scoop up spilled seed from the ground to refill feeders, since it will be contaminated with dirt, mold, grass, feces and other materials. Instead, leave it for the ground feeding birds to select from.

  • Watch carefully for signs of other wildlife taking advantage of your seed catchers and ground feeding areas, and implement management techniques if necessary.

Recycling birdseed is an easy and economical way to feed your backyard birds. While it may take some time for the birds to become accustomed to the new feeding methods, you’ll soon be attracting more birds with the seed you already have instead of purchasing more.

Photo – Sunflower Seedlings © Eran Finkle

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