This week’s rains have been a welcome relief. Prior to this week, we have had less than an inch of rain at our home for the entire month of July. While the abundance of rain is sorely needed and greatly appreciated, the combination of warm summer temperatures and abundant rain can affect your bird feeding area.
Many homeowners in the quad-city area place their bird feeders in an area where their yard is landscaped with decorative rock. As you might imagine, when the bird seed either falls out of the feeder, or when it gets kicked out of the feeder by the birds feeding at the feeder, the seeds settle in between the rocks.
One of the challenges of summer rains includes germination and “weeds” that can turn your feeding area into a lawn, almost overnight! Within three to four days of a good summer rainstorm you’ll notice a carpet of little green shoots pushing up through the rocks. As the plants grow and mature, you will notice that you have corn or sunflower or millet growing in your yard..
Unfortunately, some homeowners think the best way to get rid of the growth under their feeders is to spray the plants with an herbicide. This is a poor solution, as you are potentially poisoning the birds that feed on the seedlings.A variety of bird species — including quail and lesser goldfinches — eat a diet of fresh seedlings.Additionally, the spray can come into contact with seeds that haven’t yet germinated, and ground-feeding birds, such as doves and towhees, can ingest those seeds.
I strongly encourage you to not use herbicides in your yard. Environmentally speaking, it is a horrible choice to purposely introduce toxic chemicals into your yard where wild animals feed. And it is not just birds that can be affected by the chemicals you are spraying in your yard. A lot of small mammals, such as cottontail rabbits, eat the fresh shoots too.
If you don’t want bird seed that can germinate, then you need to buy seeds that have either been cracked, split, chipped, hulled or heat sterilized. For example, instead of buying black-oil sunflower seeds in the shell, buy sunflower chips. This simple change will have a dramatic impact on the amount of germination you experience in your yard.
Nyjer/thistle seed is another great product to feed if you don’t want germination, and you get the added benefit of an abundance of beautiful birds. Lesser goldfinches flock to nyjer feeders. Since nyjer seed is heat sterilized, it won’t germinate.
Another solution is to switch to a different seed blend. Avoid blends with a lot of filler ingredients such as milo, wheat and corn. These ingredients are not particularly appealing to the birds in our area, and they frequently kick these ingredients out of the feeder. Those seeds then end up down on the ground, increasing the likelihood of germination.
Several years ago, we created a seed blend called no-grow. This blend is made up of several different ingredients that won’t germinate. The challenge, however, is if you’ve been feeding a bird seed blend with a lot of filler ingredients, those seeds are already down in the ground and are capable of germinating. If you switch to a non-germinating blend, it is important to feed this blend year-round, not just during our summer monsoon season.
A final reminder — the Hummingbird Festival is this weekend in Sedona, in the Sedona Performing Arts building on the campus of Sedona High School. For more information visit the International Hummingbird Society website at hummingbirdsociety.org.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.