Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

Clean Up Empty Shells

Dear Bird Folks,

My neighbor is always raking up the empty shells from underneath her bird feeders. She says it’s healthier for the ground feeding birds and it prevents the seeds from sprouting. I told her she is wasting her time, the seeds would compost themselves and that the uneaten seeds probably won’t sprout anyway. Am I right?”

-Ann G., Wellfleet


Gee Ann,

I know you are from Wellfleet and everything, but even you can’t enjoy eating out of a compost pile. Even though wet, rotting, moldy seed does sound appealing, it really isn’t the best for the birds. I’ve read that breathing mold can cause respiratory problems for birds, but more importantly, the seeds that are on the ground are mixing in with the droppings from the birds on the feeder above. (This is sounding yummier all the time.) Feeder birds can pass illnesses on to ground feeding birds through their droppings. It becomes even more important to clean up under your feeders during wet, cold weather when birds are stressed and more susceptible to disease.

As far as your seed sprouting, that all depends on the kind of seed that you use. If you use sunflower seed, then yes, a few seeds will sprout, but the worst thing that could happen is that you get your very own sunflower growing in your yard. But if you use sunflower hearts (sunflower seeds without shells) you wont get any mess at all. However, if you use a mix seed, especially one of those 100 lbs. for a nickel bags of crap that they sell at “Cousin Tony’s, the Discount Dude’s Barn of Bargains,” you could have tons of things growing. The cheaper the mix, the more filler seeds are added, much of which the birds avoid eating and thus more is left to sprout. And if you don’t rake it up once in a while, you could have all kinds of mystery plants growing in your yard. Some of these mystery plants may attract flocks of birds, while some of the weirder looking plants may attract flocks of hippies, who have a different use for the plants. You just never know what kind of seeds are in those mixes. And if you think squirrels are tough to baffle, just try to keep those hippies off your feeder.

So yes, Ann, you really should rake under your feeders, avoid cheap mixes and, for at least this one time, your neighbor was right. But don’t worry, it probably won’t happen again.”