Why Do Birds Throw Seed Out of Feeders: Explained




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It’s a scene familiar to many bird enthusiasts: a carefully filled feeder, seeds scattering in all directions as birds flit to and fro.

But why do these avian visitors, eager for a meal, often seem to throw out perfectly good seeds? It’s a perplexing behavior that has left many a bird lover scratching their heads.

Dive into the world of bird feeding habits with us as we explore the reasons behind this seemingly wasteful act and learn how to maximize the benefit for our feathered friends.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the behavior of birds can help you provide a better feeding experience.
  • Different types of birds have different seed preferences and may discard seeds they don’t like.
  • The quality of the seeds you provide can impact how much seed ends up on the ground.

Understanding Bird Behavior

When it comes to understanding why birds throw seed out of feeders, it’s important to take a closer look at their behavior. In this section, we’ll explore some of the key factors that influence why birds behave the way they do.

Feeding Habits

Birds have a variety of feeding habits, depending on their species and environment. Some birds are seed-eaters, while others prefer insects or nectar. Some birds will only feed on the ground, while others are comfortable feeding in trees or on feeders.

Understanding a bird’s feeding habits can help you better understand why they might be throwing seed out of your feeder. For example, if you’re feeding a species that typically feeds on the ground, they may be more likely to throw seed out of a feeder that’s at a higher elevation.

Throwing Seed Behavior

Birds don’t always throw seed out of feeders for the same reason. In some cases, they may be trying to remove the outer shell of the seed to get to the edible kernel inside. In other cases, they may be trying to sort through the seed to find the ones that are most nutritious.

Some birds may also be throwing seed out of your feeder as a way to communicate with other birds. For example, they may be using the seed as a way to mark their territory or to signal to other birds that there’s food available.

Survival in the Wild

Birds have a variety of survival mechanisms that they use in the wild, including their ability to learn, their keen sight, and their impressive memory. These same mechanisms can also influence their behavior around feeders.

For example, birds may learn to associate a particular feeder with a certain type of seed, and they may be more likely to throw out seed that doesn’t match their expectations. They may also have a better memory for where they’ve found food in the past, which can influence where they feed in the future.

Types of Birds and Their Preferences

Different types of birds have their own preferences when it comes to the type of seeds they like and the type of feeders they prefer. In this section, we will discuss the seed and feeder preferences of some common species of birds.

Seed Preferences


Finches prefer small seeds such as nyjer, millet, and canary seed. They also enjoy sunflower seeds, but they prefer the black oil variety.


Sparrows enjoy a variety of seeds, including millet, sunflower seeds, and safflower seeds. They also like to eat cracked corn and peanuts.


Towhees prefer larger seeds such as sunflower seeds and safflower seeds. They also enjoy millet, cracked corn, and peanuts.


Chickadees prefer black oil sunflower seeds, but they also like to eat peanuts, suet, and mealworms.


Woodpeckers enjoy suet, peanuts, and black oil sunflower seeds.


Cardinals prefer sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts.


Jays enjoy peanuts, sunflower seeds, and suet.


Goldfinches prefer nyjer and sunflower chips.

White-crowned Sparrows

White-crowned sparrows prefer millet, sunflower seeds, and safflower seeds.

House Finches

House finches enjoy millet, sunflower seeds, and safflower seeds.

Feeder Preferences

Different types of birds also have their own preferences when it comes to the type of feeder they prefer.

Tube Feeders

Tube feeders are popular with finches, chickadees, and goldfinches.

Hopper Feeders

Hopper feeders are popular with sparrows, towhees, and cardinals.

Suet Feeders

Suet feeders are popular with woodpeckers, jays, and chickadees.

Platform Feeders

Platform feeders are popular with ground-feeding birds such as white-crowned sparrows and house finches.

Types of Seeds and Their Quality

Seed Quality and Its Importance

The quality of bird seed is an essential factor to consider when feeding birds. Poor quality seeds can be harmful to birds as they may contain mold, insects, or fungus that can make them sick. Furthermore, low-quality seeds may not provide the necessary nutrients that birds need to stay healthy.

When selecting bird seeds, it is important to choose high-quality seeds that are free of debris and dust. Quality seeds should also be fresh, clean, and dry. Fresh seeds are more likely to germinate, which is essential for birds that rely on sprouting seeds for food. Don’t go too cheap when it comes to bird seed, as much cheap seed will be wasted.

Different Types of Seeds

There are many different types of bird seeds available, each with its unique benefits and drawbacks. Some of the most popular types of seeds include sunflower seeds, millet, kernel, wheat, cracked corn, black oil sunflower, proso millet, nuts, nyjer, and safflower.

Sunflower seeds are a favorite among many birds, and they are an excellent source of protein and fat. Black oil sunflower seeds are especially popular as they have a high oil content, making them a great source of energy for birds.

Millet is another popular seed that is rich in carbohydrates and provides birds with energy. Proso millet is a type of millet that is easy to digest and is a favorite of many ground-feeding birds.

Nuts are also a great source of nutrition for birds, but they should be offered in moderation as they are high in fat. Suet is another excellent source of energy for birds, especially during the winter months.

Nyjer seeds are a type of seed that is rich in oil and protein, making them a great source of energy for birds. Safflower is another popular seed that is high in protein and fat and is a favorite of many songbirds.

The Role of Bird Feeders

Bird feeders play an essential role in attracting birds to your backyard, providing them with food, and allowing you to observe their behavior up close. However, it is essential to choose the right feeder and maintain it properly to ensure that it is effective and safe for the birds.

Choosing the Right Feeder

Different types of feeders are suitable for different types of birds, so it’s important to choose the right one. Here are some common types of bird feeders and the birds they attract:

  • Tube feeders: These are ideal for small birds like finches, chickadees, and titmice. They have small ports that dispense seeds, preventing bigger birds from accessing them.
  • Suet feeders: These feeders are designed to hold suet cakes, which are high-energy blocks made of fat and other ingredients. They attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other birds that cling to trees.
  • Tray feeders: These are flat feeders that can hold a variety of foods, including seeds, suet, and fruit. They attract ground-feeding birds like sparrows, juncos, and doves.
  • Hanging feeders: These feeders can be hung from trees or poles and are suitable for a wide range of birds. They can dispense seeds, suet, or other foods.

When choosing a feeder, consider the size and type of birds you want to attract, the location where you will place the feeder, and the type of food you want to offer.

Feeder Maintenance

Proper maintenance of your bird feeder is essential to ensure that it remains effective and safe for the birds. Here are some tips for maintaining your feeder:

  • Clean the feeder regularly: Dirty feeders can harbor bacteria and mold that can harm the birds. Clean your feeder at least once a month or more often if it gets wet or dirty.
  • Use fresh food: Stale or moldy food can be harmful to birds. Replace the food in your feeder regularly and discard any food that looks or smells bad.
  • Position the feeder carefully: Place your feeder in a location that is safe for the birds and easy for you to access for cleaning and refilling.

By choosing the right feeder and maintaining it properly, you can attract a wide range of birds to your backyard and enjoy watching their behavior up close.

The Impact of Environment

The environment in which a bird feeder is placed can have a significant impact on the behavior of birds and their tendency to throw seed out of the feeder. Here are some factors to consider:


Birds will often throw seed out of the feeder and onto the ground. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it can provide food for ground-feeding birds and other wildlife. However, if you don’t want seed on the ground, you can place a tray or catch basin under the feeder to catch any fallen seeds.


Bird feeders can create a mess, with seed shells and other debris accumulating on the ground beneath the feeder. This mess can attract rodents and other pests, so it’s important to keep the area around the feeder clean.


If seed is left on the ground for too long, it can become moldy and potentially harmful to birds. Make sure to clean up any fallen seed regularly to prevent mold from forming.


If you have a garden or flower bed near your feeder, fallen seeds can actually be beneficial. They can germinate and grow into plants, providing food and habitat for birds and other wildlife.


Some seed mixes may contain fillers or other seeds that birds don’t like to eat. These seeds may be more likely to germinate if they are thrown out of the feeder and onto the ground.


If you have grass or other vegetation under your feeder, the fallen seeds can provide nutrients to the soil. However, if you have a flagstone or rock surface, the fallen seed can be difficult to clean up.


If you notice that birds are throwing a lot of seed out of your feeder, it could be a sign that the seed mix is stale or contaminated with disease. Make sure to regularly clean and refill your feeder with fresh seed.

Squirrel and Rodents

If you have problems with squirrels or other rodents stealing seed from your feeder, you may need to invest in a squirrel-proof feeder or take other measures to deter them.

Accidental Spills

Sometimes birds may accidentally spill seed while trying to get to the feeder. This is normal behavior and not necessarily a cause for concern. However, if spills are frequent, you may want to adjust the feeder or switch to a different type of feeder.

Feeder Type

Different types of feeders can impact the amount of seed that is thrown out. For example, tube feeders with small openings may be less likely to result in spilled seed than platform feeders. Choose a feeder that is appropriate for the type of birds you want to attract and the environment in which it will be placed.

Preventing Seed Wastage

To prevent birds from throwing seed out of feeders and wasting it, there are a few things you can do. Proper seed storage, feeder placement, and maintenance are key to minimizing seed wastage.

Proper Seed Storage

To ensure that the seed you provide is of good quality, it is important to store it properly. Keep the seed in a cool, dry place, and make sure it is not exposed to direct sunlight. This will help prevent moldy or bacteria-ridden seeds that can be harmful to birds. Additionally, make sure to purchase high-quality seed from a reputable source.

Feeder Placement and Maintenance

The placement of the feeder can also affect how much seed is wasted. Place the feeder in a location that is sheltered from the wind and rain to prevent wet seeds. Also, make sure the feeder is not too close to any structures or trees where squirrels or other animals can easily access it.

Regular feeder maintenance is essential to preventing seed wastage. Clean the feeder regularly to prevent moldy seeds and bacteria growth. Replace any moldy or wet seeds immediately, as they can be toxic to birds. Additionally, make sure to use a feeder that is appropriate for the size of birds in your area, as larger birds may have trouble accessing smaller feeders.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I prevent birds from throwing food out of feeders?

There are a few ways to prevent birds from throwing food out of feeders. One way is to use a feeder with a built-in seed catcher. Another way is to use a tray or platform feeder that catches the seeds as they fall. You can also try using a feeder with a screen or mesh bottom that allows the seeds to fall through while preventing the birds from throwing them out.

What are some effective seed catchers for bird feeders?

Some effective seed catchers for bird feeders include tray or platform feeders, feeders with built-in seed catchers, and feeders with a screen or mesh bottom. You can also use a simple seed catcher made from a plastic lid or tray that you place under the feeder to catch the seeds as they fall.

Will wet seed deter birds from eating?

Wet seed can deter birds from eating, as it can become moldy and spoil. It can also clog up feeders and make it difficult for birds to access the food. If you notice that the seed is wet, it’s best to replace it with fresh, dry seed as soon as possible.

Is it okay to throw birdseed on the ground?

It’s generally okay to throw birdseed on the ground, but it can attract unwanted pests and animals to your yard. It’s also less efficient than using a feeder, as the seed is more likely to be wasted or eaten by non-bird animals. If you do choose to throw seed on the ground, make sure to clean up any excess seed to prevent pests from being attracted to your yard.

Do birds communicate with each other about food sources?

Yes, birds do communicate with each other about food sources. They use a variety of vocalizations and body language to signal to other birds when they have found a good food source. This can lead to large flocks of birds gathering in one area to feed.

Why do birds sometimes stop using feeders?

There are a few reasons why birds may stop using feeders. One reason is that the seed may be stale or spoiled, so it’s important to keep the feeder clean and fill it with fresh seed regularly. Another reason is that the birds may have found a better food source elsewhere, such as natural sources of food like berries or insects. Finally, some birds may simply prefer to forage for food on the ground or in trees rather than using a feeder.

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One response to “Why Do Birds Throw Seed Out of Feeders: Explained”

  1. Brenda Avatar

    I enjoy learning more about birds and their habits.

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