What to Put Under a Bird Feeder?

Backyard birds are beautiful. They brighten up the landscape and provide soothing natural sound effects. They eat insects and pollinate flowers.

And many backyard birds are messy eaters.

Birds scatter seeds on the ground as they eat. Or they drop mealworms and suet, attracting rodents. And birds also poop where they eat.

The result is an unsightly mess under your backyard bird feeder. Clumps of spoiled bird seed ferment and decay, and birdseed weeds begin to pop up when you have wet weather.

What is a backyard bird lover to do?

The best way to deal with the mess under a bird feeder is landscaping!

This isn’t a major landscaping project. You will only need to landscape about 4 square feet (less than half a square meter) of your lawn, and you can probably do the job in two hours or less for USD $100 or less.

We will use an approach backyard bird expert Tammie Poppie calls “Ring Around the Bird Feeder.”

Two Goals of Landscaping Underneath Your Bird Feeder

There will be two things you are trying to do by landscaping a ring beneath your bird feeder.

One is making cleanup easy and fast.

The other is keeping the area under your birdseed feeder visually attractive—all the time.

What You’ll Need for Landscaping Under Your Bird Feeder

You will need two things (or maybe three) to landscape a ring under your bird feeder:

  • A tree ring, or landscape fabric
  • Landscape rocks or gravel,
  • And, optionally, landscape edging, the kind where you bury a few inches (up to 15 cm) into the ground.

What’s a tree ring?

A tree ring is a round piece of plastic or rubber that you can lay down around a mature tree.

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You won’t be using your tree ring around a tree, of course. You will be placing it around the pole on which your bird feeder hangs.

Tree rings come in a variety of sizes. You need a tree ring that is large enough that it will extend beneath the feeder, however far your feeder hangs away from the pole.

Can’t find a tree ring?

An alternative to a rubber or plastic tree ring is landscape cloth.

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You will have to cut it into a circle or a square large enough to catch everything that falls from your bird feeder.

And you will need to cut a hole in the middle with a slit to the side so you can place it around the pole.

Landscape edging isn’t really optional. Most tree rings will come with them, so you won’t have to buy them separately. But you need landscape edging to help hold the tree ring in place.

You will also need landscape rocks to conceal what comes down from the bird feeder.

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You will place these rocks on the tree ring or landscape cloth.

Debris from above will accumulate between the rocks. You can use a shop vac to remove the debris every few days to keep the area clean.

You will need to buy your landscape rocks on a kind of Goldilocks principle.

They can’t be so small that your shop vac will suck them up with the debris.

They can’t be so large that seed, bird droppings, feathers, and dropped food accumulate beneath them.

What size is that?

  • Fieldstones are too large. Debris washes down beneath them.
  • Lava rocks and pumice stones are too light. Your shop vac will pick them up.
  • Pebbles and gravel won’t work either. They are too light.
  • Landscaping rocks about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter are perfect. They are heavy enough that a shop vac won’t pick them up, but small enough that they expose fallen bird seed in the cracks between them.

Multicolored rocks that are 1-1/2 inches to 2 inches (35 to 50 mm) wide are a good choice. You can get them from any big-box home improvement store, or on Amazon.

You will need about a cubic foot of rocks to cover a 3-toot circle of landscape cloth. If you are buying landscaping rocks in the US, that’s two bags.

In the rest of the world, look for a 7- or 8-kilogram bag.

Clean the Mess Under Your Bird Feeder

Once you have bought the materials for landscaping under your bird feeder, the next thing you need to do is to make sure the area is scrupulously clean and debris-free.

If You Have Never Cleaned Beneath Your Bird Feeder

If you have never cleaned up under your bird feeder, or it’s been a long time, you are going to need a shovel, a rake, a shop vac, and a garbage bag.

Be sure to wear gloves while you are doing this job, and wash your hands with warm, soapy water when you are through.

  1. Pull as many weeds and sprouted seeds out of the ground as you can, and place them in the garbage bag.
  2. Rake up all the bird droppings and seed debris, shovel it up, and dispose of it in the garbage bag.
  3. Vacuum up any remaining seed and debris, and empty your shop vac into the garbage bag.
  4. Put the garbage bag and its contents into the trash.

If You Have Been Keeping Up with Cleaning Under Your Bird Feeder

Have you been making an effort to keep the area underneath your bird feeder clean?

Then, you will only need a shop vac cleaner and a garbage bag.

Don’t forget to wear gloves when you are working around bird droppings and feathers and to wash your hands with warm soapy water when you are finished with the job.

  1. If there are any sprouts from fallen bird seed, pull them up and put them in the trash bag.
  2. Vacuum the area to remove droppings and debris. Empty your shop vac into the garbage bag.
  3. Throw the garbage bag into the trash.

Why do the cleaning with a shop vac? The shop vac will get rid of seed debris and bird droppings, and it is inexpensive enough that you can have a shop vac for just this one task.

This way, you won’t cross-contaminate other parts of your home, garage, and garden.

Now, Make Sure the Area Below the Bird Feeder Stays Clean

Once you have cleaned up underneath your bird seed feeder, the next thing to do is to make sure the area stays clean.

Lay down the tree guard or the landscape cloth, bury the landscape edging, and cover with the right-sized rocks.

Next time, you will just repeat the second clean-up method. Vacuum up spilled seeds and droppings, put them in a trash bag, and throw them away.

What About Sand, Mulch, or Flowers?

Vacuuming the area beneath a bird feeder every two or three days is the secret to keeping the ground beneath a bird feeder clean.

You don’t want to put anything underneath a bird feeder that you don’t want to be sucked into your shop vac.

Lava rocks, mulch, dirt, pebbles, gravel, and tiny decorative stones can all get sucked up into your vacuum, and you would just have to put out more.

And you would need to put out more every two or three days.

There is another reason not to put mulch, sand, or dirt beneath your bird feeder. Fallen seeds can sprout in those media.

If seeds fall between rocks on top of a tree guard or landscape cloth, they dry out and never get a chance to sprout.

Other Ways to Keep the Area Beneath a Bird Feeder Clean

Not every bird feeder hangs from a pole.

But there are still ways to keep the area beneath it clean.

Install a Seed Catcher

A seed catcher is just what it sounds like. It is a circular dish that fits on the bottom of a birdseed feeder gives birds a second chance to find and eat seeds.

Many birds won’t risk being attacked by a cat or some other predator by feeding on the ground.

A seed catcher gives them a safe way to eat the seeds they missed. And because it catches dropped seed and other debris, you won’t have a mess on the ground.

You still have to clean out the seed catcher two or three times a week. But you won’t have unsightly weeds growing beneath your bird feeder.

Put Bricks or Paving Stones Underneath Your Bird Feeder

If you hang your bird feeder over bricks or paving stones, you can simply spray away any accumulated debris every morning.

If you aren’t diligent about daily cleaning, however, accumulated droppings can make an unsightly, unsanitary, smelly mess.

Pour a Concrete Patio

If you are looking for a permanent remedy for the problem of unsightly weeds beneath your bird feeder, you can always pour a concrete slab.

Skilled concrete workers can add color and patterns to concrete that make it look like expensive stonework.

You will still need, of course, to keep up with your cleaning. There are birds that leave droppings acidic enough to etch concrete, so daily cleaning is a must.

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