Birds are important visitors to our gardens, apart from eating pesky slugs, snails and other plant-loving pests, they’re a joy to behold. That is, of course, until they start eating your freshly laid grass seed.
Do not despair if this is happening to you, there are several ways to stop birds from eating grass seed, from overseeding and placing deterrents to savvy seed protection. Keep reading to discover the most effective ways to stop birds from feasting on grass seeds without scaring the neighbourhood bird population away.
Which birds eat grass seed?
Birds feed in a variety of different ways, some, like swifts, will feed on the wing, others will pick from bird tables and many others will feast from the ground. Ground feeders like sparrows, finches and pigeons are particularly partial to nutritious grass seeds and a few hungry birds can quickly peck their way through a freshly seeded patch.
Grass seed is attractive to birds because it’s easy to eat, usually abundant and packed with protein. Many of the ground-feeding bird species have small, delicate beaks, so grass seed is an ideal snack for them.
How to stop birds from eating grass seed
If you’ve experienced the frustration of losing half your freshly sown grass seed to hungry birds or are about to seed a new lawn, here’s how to protect grass seed from birds:
1. Cover the grass
The most effective way to stop birds eating grass seed is to prevent them from reaching it in the first place. There are a few ways to stop our feathered friends from munching on freshly sown seeds:
- You can use fine netting to protect grass seed from birds, the kind of net you use for protecting fruit bushes is ideal. You’ll need to make sure it’s raised off the ground a little.
- Cover the new seed with garden fleece. Fleece allows the new grass to breathe, can help speed up germination and will protect the seeds effectively.
- Alternatively, you can cover the grass seed with polythene sheeting. This has many benefits, apart from making the seed inaccessible to hungry birds. The sheeting will act as a greenhouse, warming the soil and accelerating germination, it helps prevent any damage due to heavy rainfall (especially important on a sloping garden) and stops any weed seeds from establishing.
2. Rake the seeds in
Grass seeds don’t have to sit on top of the soil to germinate. The seeds can be raked into the soil to a maximum depth of ⅛ of an inch. This will help to hide the seed from birds and also stop the seeds from being washed away while watering or during heavy rainfall.
3. Source specialist grass seed
If you’re looking for a grass seed birds won’t eat, coated seed is the way forward.
There are several bird-repellent grass seeds on the market. Known as coated grass seed, birds find the taste of clay-covered grass seed unpleasant and because the grains are larger and trickier to eat, will generally leave it alone.
Although less attractive to birds than uncoated grass seeds, coated seeds can be much more expensive and take longer to germinate.
4. Provide an alternative food source
Another way to stop birds from snaffling your grass seeds is to provide them with an alternative feast. It can take birds a while to discover new food sources so it may be worth getting a new bird feeding station in place a few weeks before you plan to sow your grass seed.
Remember that the birds who eat grass seed will be ground feeders, so it’s worth putting out a tray with a selection of tasty seeds and fruit to tempt them away from the grass seeds.
5. Try bird deterrents
Another tried and tested way to keep birds away from new seeds is by frightening them off. Scarecrows and inanimate decoys may work initially, but birds will soon get used to them. Here are a few more effective, inexpensive and creative ways to stop birds from eating grass seed:
- Tin foil strips and metal party streamers will catch the rays of the sun, irritating bird’s eyes and keeping them off your patch. You can even get in the party mood and deter birds with a mirrored disco ball.
- Try hanging reflective CDs on rows of string across your new lawn.
- Birds don’t like loud noises so a well-placed wind chime may keep birds away for a short time.
- Bird scaring humming tapes creates a vibration that birds despise when stretched between stakes.
6. Apply strong-smelling substances
Birds dislike the pungent aromas of peppermint, lemon, cayenne pepper, chilli, vinegar and garlic. You can make up sprays to apply liberally around the grass seed, take care if using vinegar as this can damage the grass. You will need to frequently apply the mixture for it to be effective.
One of the simplest ways to deal with birds eating grass seed is just to accept that you’ll lose some of your seed to them, and sow half as much seed as you have already sown again. That way, much of the seed will germinate and if you lose a few seeds to the birds, it won’t be noticeable.
Will birds eat all the grass seed?
If a particularly ravenous flock land in your garden they can munch their way through a lot of grass seed. You can offset this by sowing more seed than you need.
How do I keep birds off new grass seed?
There are several ways to keep birds away from newly sown grass seed. The most effective way is to cover the seed, polythene sheets and garden fleece are the best options.
You can also spray scents that birds hate, such as chilli and vinegar, provide an alternative food source to tempt them away from the easy-to-eat seed or try using shiny or noisy deterrents.