Bird Watcher's General Store

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Moths Hatch Out of Old Seed

Dear Bird Folks,

Thanks to my bag of birdseed, I now have a house full of moths. The moths are everywhere and my seed is full of webs and worms. Where did these moths come from, why are they in my seed and how can I get rid of them?

– Paul, Beverly


First Paul,

Let me tell you a story. Thirty years ago, when I first started feeding birds, I bought a 50 pound bag of sunflower seed at the end of the winter. In those days bird feeding was still based on old wives’ tales and voodoo. Just about everybody took their feeders down when the snow melted. Not wanting to violate the unwritten code of bird feeding I, too, put my feeders away for the summer. Thinking I was ahead of the game for the next feeding season, I smugly put my 50 pound bag of seed in my attic where it would stay nice and dry until fall.

One hot, August day I went into the attic for some reason, probably to put away the last Christmas decoration. When I opened the door to the attic it actually looked like Christmas, a white Christmas. Millions of moths were flying about like winged snowflakes. And they were all coming from that bag of seed that I had shrewdly bought on sale a few months earlier. I’m sure you are wondering by now what I did about it. What do you think I did? I sold the house and moved out of town, of course. Really.

Let me explain a little about these moths. We are talking about “meal moths” here. These are moths that seem to enjoy our food as much as we do. They eat grains, crackers, cereal, and in your case, bird seed. They are not the same moths that eat cloth, so your silk underwear is totally safe. Actually, the moths don’t eat anything, it is those little nasty worms (the larva) that do all the eating. The moths are just flying around looking for unprotected food to lay eggs in.

How did you end up with these lovely moths, you ask? Well, they can be carried into your house in just about any food, especially untreated foods like health food or pet foods. In your case (and mind), the pet food was bird seed.

What to do about it? Prevention is important. (I know prevention is too late for you, Paul, but I have to assume that you are not the only person reading this.) Use your seed up quickly. It takes at least 30 days for meal moths to go through their life cycle and much longer if kept cool. In the summer, buy smaller amounts of seed. Never store bird seed in your house. Heat from your house will cause the eggs to hatch and grow quickly. A shed or garage is the best place to store your seeds. The moths will still hatch out in the shed, but who cares, it’s a shed.

Getting rid of the moths is tough. You will need to put all of your grains, cereals, pastas, etc. in airtight containers. The moths would love to get into those. Inspect any opened packages for webs, the telltale sign of the larvae. Some garden centers sell moth traps that work well. The traps have no pesticides; they use a pheromone sex scent as bait that is great at attracting moths and the occasional teenage boy.

You are not alone here, Paul. It seems that I write about this every year. Meal moths are a big problem, especially for those of us who sell seed. The hot weather makes them hatch out and there isn’t much we can do about it. Storing seed outside of your house and buying smaller amounts in the summer is about the best you can do.

You could also do what I did, sell your house and move out of town. However, I wouldn’t recommend it because you live in Beverly. Where are you going to move to, Salem? Don’t do it man, moths are tough but witches can be even more of a headache.