Many gardens are full of plants and trees that attract our favorite robins, cardinals, and sparrows to fill our domestic lives with colorful birdsong. Having them in your yard is a pleasant way to enjoy nature up close, and anyone with a bird feeder knows how easy it is to attract them with seeds. When it comes to planting grass seed, however, keeping birds from devouring them all can be a little more tricky.
When you’re thinking about replanting your lawn, planning ahead to take the proper steps to protect your grass seed from birds will help keep the growing process on track towards a lush lawn.
Why Do Birds Eat Grass Seed?
All birds eat seeds, either exclusively or as part of a broader diet. Seeds are nutrient-dense to feed the germination process, but many animals eat seeds to feed themselves. Birds are ravenous eaters, and these high-energy animals need to get that energy from someplace; they will constantly be on the hunt for grains.
This means that when you sow seed to fill in patches, thicken your grass cover, or replant the whole lawn, birds will consider it an attractive meal laid out. Since planting bird-friendly plants and trees is so important for providing them with critical habitat, keeping them away from your grass seed doesn’t have to be ecologically unsound.
How To Keep Birds From Eating Grass Seed
Birds are everywhere, so it might seem like you’ll have to take drastic steps to keep them away from your recently sown grass seed. Some precaution is necessary, but with a little active monitoring over the 6-week germination and growth period, you can prevent your neighborhood birds from thinning out the seeds you planted.
There are several tactics to choose from to manage the birds in your area for your overall grass-growing strategy:
- Protect the grass
- Repel the birds
- Redirect the birds
Wildlife is tenacious, and smaller animals like songbirds and squirrels can dig around very close to the ground, ripping out grass roots in search of food in the topsoil. Like turkeys, chickens, and crows, larger birds will also scratch around in the grass to find seeds and insects.
A combination of these protective and repellant approaches should produce the best results.
Cover The Soil
The best way to protect grass seed from birds is to use a physical barrier. You may not be able to close off your yard, but laying one of many materials can keep birds out of the soil and away from the seeds. Not only can a barrier keep birds out, but it can also hide the seeds from them so they won’t hone in on the area in the first place.
Covering the soil is also a way to protect the wildlife: birds will eat grass seed with fertilizer. They may mistake the fertilizer grains for dirt or small rocks, which they eat to help with their digestive system. The ingredients of fertilizers may be safe for soil and plants but can be harmful to birds and other animals, especially when it is freshly applied.
Using netting to protect grass seed from birds is an excellent method of keeping them away from the seeds while still allowing sunlight, air, and water to reach the soil. Some bird-repelling nets are suspended over the ground, so they aren’t able to land at all.
Others lay flat, secured to the ground, made of materials that can’t be scratched or dug through, such as synthetic and metal wiring. You can use chicken wire or a biodegradable grass seed mat to cover small patches of planted grass seed.
The seed mat can also be used for full-lawn coverage if you’ve overseeded or tilled the yard to regrow the grass system completely.
Burlap is another material that will protect the seed from birds while also encouraging good growth. This textile is made of natural vegetable fibers, so even though the weaving provides tighter coverage than netting, it will still allow air in and out, as well as some light and water.
This option helps keep moisture in the ground, maintaining a well-watered growing environment for the seeds. For spring grasses, this can protect your seeds from any late frosts or heavy rains.
Moist soil holds heat better, so burlap will also insulate your cool season grass seeds on colder fall nights. During the summer, however, it might keep too much heat or moisture in.
Burlap can be bought as a sack that you can cut up for small area coverage. To cover the whole lawn, burlap (or jute) material is sometimes sold as blanketing that you can use for larger area planting. With nails or small posts, burlap is easily secured to the ground and lifted again when the grass has sprouted.
Mulch And Straw
There are many choices with mulches and straw that offer an organic option, but which might be easier for birds to pick through. In the fall, leaves can provide a good coverage option, but they are light and can easily blow away with a bit of wind.
Straw also provides good coverage and protection, hiding the seeds and allowing air and water to reach the soil. Straw, leaves, woodchips, mulch, and other yard litter can be used in conjunction with a netting that secures the cover in place.
Using plant material for mulch and protection from birds has the added bonus of providing nutrients and minerals to the topsoil as it decomposes.
When using leaves and other dense mulches for seed coverage, be sure the coverage isn’t so thick that light can’t reach the soil. Good aeration is essential; otherwise, the moisture retained can encourage the growth of fungi or bacteria.
Birds have highly developed visual senses, so blocking and hiding seeds is an integral part of the overall goal of keeping birds from the growing lawn. They can smell and taste as well and can be repelled from the seeded area by using certain natural deterrents that should be diluted with water to be safe for the growth of the grass:
- Peppermint oil
- Black, chili, or cayenne pepper
- Apple cider vinegar
You can buy pre-mixed products at garden stores with more complex formulas that don’t have to be refreshed weekly. Biodegradable formulas will include plant and soil safe ingredients that keep wildlife away from the area they’re sprayed. These are also used to make coated grass seed, another option to stop birds from picking at your yard.
Most of our neighborhood birds are in the middle of the food chain: they are predators to insects and sometimes small mammals and are prey to a host of other animals and humans. While birds are very smart, they can be fooled by scarecrows when they’re used properly.
A scarecrow is usually thought of as being a human form in the middle of a field, but many other predator forms can be used to make any bird hesitant to approach. Placing fake predators like rubber snakes, false owls, or coyote decoys in strategic places (think of where they might be in nature, visible but not obvious) can keep the birds at bay.
Fake dead birds can also be bought and hung to deter birds; these aren’t real, but they do look like it.
Be sure to move those around every few days so the regularly visiting birds don’t catch on. As visual creatures that are prey to many species, birds are constantly on alert and will be on the lookout for any potential threats.
Interestingly, a bird’s hearing range is within the range of our human capacity. Unlike dogs, a bird can’t hear pitches higher than the ones we can ourselves.
Some electronic noise makers mimic predator sounds like owls, hawks, or other wildlife to keep birds away. Other kinds make clicking, whirling, or static noises that signal commotion to any nearby birds.
Wind chimes are another option for a noisemaker. The inconsistent clattering of a wind chime, which people find very nice, will be unfamiliar to a bird and will be interpreted as an area to stay away from.
Reflective, shiny objects disorient birds. A glimpse of motion can make them leave out of caution of any potential threat that may be lurking. A flash of light can throw off their sensitive vision, giving them a reason to stay away from the area.
You can stop birds from eating grass seed with tin foil or reflective tape applied to poles or placards in the ground, an easy way to discourage them from approaching the yard temporarily. These are easily placed near seeded patches or across the lawn for area-wide coverage.
Reflective pinwheels, which are both shiny and in motion, are great options since they are small, portable, and are easily inserted and removed from the soil.
Motion sensor sprinklers
Setting up motion sensor sprinklers near the grass seed will give you protection from birds, which can be frightened off with the burst of water while also providing the lawn with a bit of moisture.
Motion sensor lights
When birds get within the range of a motion sensor light, the still or flashing light provides commotion during the otherwise dark periods of the day: early morning, evening, and night. Birds are early risers, so using light at times when they aren’t expecting it will startle them and clear them away from your grass seed.
Provide A Bird-Friendly Distraction
Unfortunately for your lawn, there isn’t any grass seed birds won’t eat. If enough food is provided elsewhere with easy access, you might be able to keep them away from trying to get to your otherwise covered and hidden seeds.
Avid gardeners may already know how to attract birds to their yard since they are part of a thriving garden ecosystem. Planting native flowers, bushes, and trees provide habitat and food like seeds and caterpillars to birds.
You can supplement their diets by providing bird feeders. Most commercial birdseed contains sunflower seeds and other grains, as well as nuts and fruits. Birdbaths are also very attractive to birds and will be a preferred stopping area in your yard.
If birds are satisfied with the seeds and other food provided in other areas in your yard, they may not have a reason even to try to get through the material securing the grass seed.
Use Extra Seed
In nature, plants release as many seeds as possible to ensure some take hold and grow to mature plants. While you can definitely put too many seeds out, you can use more than the recommended amount to increase your chances that enough seeds will germinate to give dense lawn coverage.
Using up to 25% more seed, just in case, can help fill in the gap for any seeds that might be lost to nature, birds, or otherwise.