When should you not put out bird seed?

Bird feeding is a rewarding hobby enjoyed by millions of people. Watching colorful songbirds visit your yard for a snack is a simple pleasure. However, there are times when it’s best not to put out bird seed. Understanding when and why to restrict access to feeders will help create a safe environment for your wild visitors.

Spring and Summer

Spring and summer are the height of breeding season for many birds. While feeding birds is generally fine this time of year, it’s best to limit the amount of seed you put out. Abundant food from feeders can negatively impact breeding and nesting behaviors in a few key ways:

  • Feeders may distract birds from normal nesting activities. Males in particular may spend less time establishing territories and attracting mates if they can easily get food from your yard.
  • Well-meaning bird lovers may offer too much supplemental food. This can discourage birds from seeking the balanced diet of insects and natural seeds they need for themselves and their young.
  • Feeders often cause unnaturally high concentrations of birds. While enjoyable to watch, crowded feeders can facilitate disease transmission.

During peak breeding months, offer just enough seed to provide a supplemental snack. Avoid overflowing feeders that could readily sustain birds without natural foraging. Concentrate feeders near Cover to limit crowding on platforms.

Extreme Heat

Hot summer weather can quickly spoil bird seed and cause rancid buildup in feeders. The bacteria Salmonella and other pathogens thrive in these conditions.

To avoid contaminating seed, take these precautions during heat waves and prolonged periods of high temperatures:

  • Empty and clean feeders regularly to prevent moldy seed and sludge accumulation.
  • Discard any seed that smells musty or looks damp or clumpy.
  • Use feeders with drainage holes and ventilation to allow air circulation.
  • Limit feeder time to mornings and evenings when temperatures are lower.
  • Consider offering only clean, fresh fruit slices during severely hot weather.

Following these tips will reduce chances of birds consuming toxic seed. Be especially vigilant around fledglings, who are more susceptible to pathogens than adult birds.

Cold Snaps

Bitterly cold weather poses challenges for birds. Frigid temperatures increase calorie needs at a time when natural food is scarce. However, offering the wrong types of supplemental food during winter can also be problematic. Here are some tips for safe winter bird feeding:

  • Avoid “people food” like bread, crackers, and potato chips. These filling but nutrition-poor foods can lead to malnutrition.
  • Select high-energy foods like black oil sunflower seeds, suet, and nuts. Mix in some nutritious grains and fruits too.
  • Make sure seeds are fresh and not moldy from storage.
  • Consider purchasing a bird seed heater to prevent icy buildup that makes feed inaccessible.
  • Run heat lamps over water sources to prevent freezing and ensure hydration access.

With the right foods and precautions, you can help birds survive frigid nights and short winter days.

Disease Outbreaks

Feeders that aren’t cleaned regularly can facilitate the spread of avian diseases. Salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis, and avian pox are some of the most common backyard bird afflictions.

When disease is detected in your area, it’s best to temporarily restrict access to feeders. Follow these guidelines during outbreaks:

  • Take down feeders for at least two weeks to encourage birds to disperse.
  • Clean and disinfect all feeders and bird baths.
  • Wear gloves when handling infected areas.
  • Dip feeder parts in a 10% bleach solution before rinsing and rehanging.
  • Consider moving feeder locations annually to avoid contamination buildup in soil.

Avoid using moldy seed and regularly clean feeders to help minimize risks of disease transmission in the future.


While a busy feeder may seem like a sign of success, overcrowding can cause problems. Aggressive species may monopolize feeder space, discouraging smaller and more timid birds from approaching.

Dense flocks also increase chances of collisions and injuries. Limit overcrowding by:

  • Offering multiple small feeders rather than one overly large feeder.
  • Spacing feeders widely across your yard.
  • Supplementing feeders with natural food sources like fruiting trees and shrubs.
  • Using tube feeders with perch barriers to allow alternating access.

With thoughtful feeder placement and numbers, everyone gets a turn!

Nesting Season

As eager as you may be to watch baby birds grow, it’s important not to place feeders too close to nest sites. Supplemental feeding near nests can have unintended consequences:

  • Adult birds may become distracted by feeders and spend less time incubating eggs and feeding young.
  • Feeders can attract predators like jays, crows, and squirrels. These visitors may then find and raid nearby nests.
  • Young birds may prematurely fledge feeders and become grounded, injured, or abandoned.

To support nesting birds, follow these tips:

  • Locate feeders at least 15 feet from any active nests.
  • Avoid excessive activity near nesting areas which may stress parents.
  • Remove feeders entirely if they are causing repeated disturbance to nesting birds.

With some seasonal planning, you can provide helpful supplemental food without compromising avian parenting success.

Predator Presence

Feeders often unintentionally attract squirrels, bears, raccoons, snakes, and other wildlife eager for an easy snack. While these visitors may be fun to watch, predators can also pose risks:

  • Large predators like bears can damage property and threaten human safety if feeders condition them to associate yards with food.
  • Squirrels and snakes may prey on fledglings, eggs, and even adult birds visiting feeders.
  • Noisy gatherings at feeders can alert predators to nest locations.

To limit unwanted wildlife issues, try these tips:

  • Use feeders designed with weight sensitive perches or guards to restrict access by heavy predators.
  • Install smooth feeder poles that squirrels and bears can’t climb.
  • Set up strategically placed motion activated sprinklers and lights to startle problem visitors.
  • Avoid mixed seed blends which attract rodents and squirrels.

With some innovative deterrents, you can create a safe space for bird dining.


Bird feeding is meant to be an enjoyable hobby that supports wildlife. By being mindful of seasonal and circumstantial factors, you can continue supplementing birds while avoiding potential downsides. Be flexible, use common sense, and always put birds’ best interests first.

Scenario Potential risks Recommended precautions
Spring/Summer – Distraction from nesting
– Disease transmission
– Overreliance on feeders
– Limit amounts of seed offered
– Space out multiple small feeders
– Maintain cleanliness
Extreme Heat – Moldy, rancid seed
– Bacteria growth
– Frequently replace seed
– Prioritize dried fruit
– Clean feeders regularly
Cold Snaps – Nutritional deficiencies
– Lack of natural forage
– Offer high fat foods
– Use seed heaters
– Provide open water
Disease Outbreaks – Salmonellosis
– Trichomoniasis
– Avian pox
– Take down feeders
– Clean and disinfect
– Wear gloves when handling
Overcrowding – Aggressive species dominating
– Increased injuries
– Offer multiple small feeders
– Space feeders widely
– Supplement with natural foods
Nesting Season – Distraction from parenting duties
– Attracting predators
– Locate feeders 15+ feet from nests
– Limit activity near nests
– Remove problematic feeders
Predator Presence – Property damage from bears
– Predation of birds/eggs
– Alerting predators to nests
– Use weight sensitive or guarded feeders
– Install smooth poles
– Utilize deterrents like sprinklers

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