Birds are amazing guests in your backyard, whether they’re snatching up grasshoppers, digging up webworms, or just bringing a moment of joy to your day with their song. But when you’ve put in all the work to prepare and seed a new lawn, they become less of a joy and more of a frustration. You can easily protect your newly started lawn while it germinates by employing a few simple methods.
You can protect your grass seed from birds by seeding your lawn in the late summer when there are tons of other food options, you can cover seed with a light layer of mulch or burlap, or protect it with a raised bird netting, or by scaring them off with wind chimes or motion-activated sprinklers. You could give them something yummier to eat, like sunflower seeds.
Why Are Birds Eating My Grass Seeds?
Most birds that visit your backyard (like sparrows, finches, starlings, and grackles) are granivorous, meaning they eat seeds. (That’s why bird feeders work.) Sowing a lawn looks like you’re putting out an all-you-can-eat buffet for the birds.
But even though birds may seem like pests when starting a lawn, they’re actually a boon to your yard and garden. Along with seeds, they love to eat a variety of insect pests that would otherwise devastate your lawn and garden, like grasshoppers and webworms.
They’re also fun to watch. Yes, bird watching is really fun and calming, especially when you can identify the different birds that come to your garden and their unique bird song. With a pair of binoculars, you may even discover new species you’ve never seen before. (Some birds, like the cedar waxwing, are incredibly common but you’d never know you’ve seen one because they’re too small to identify without binoculars.)
8 Bird-Friendly Ways to Protect Grass Seed
1. Seed Lawns In The Late Summer Or Early Autumn
The best time to sow cool-season grasses is actually in the late summer or early autumn, when daytime temperatures are warm without the risk of heat waves, cool at night, and with enough time to establish itself before the start of the summer.
This is also the best time to start lawns to avoid birds, as this is also when natural grass and flowers are also going to seed. If you pair this with one or two other prevention methods, all those other seeds will look like a much easier option.
2. Cover With Mulch
A light layer of mulch will not only help your seeds stay moist while germinating but will also hide grass seed out of sight. Birds can still dig up grass seed, but it’ll take them longer and they’d have to spot it first. Again, this method works better with a second method to back it up.
Use a very light layer, between 1/16 inch and ⅛ inch of compost, topsoil, grass cuttings, or seed starting netting. You should still be able to see 10% of the seeds through the mulch layer. Too much mulch, and your grass will struggle to germinate.
3. Protect With Bird Netting
Bird netting can prevent birds from even reaching the seeds. Stretch it taut and raise it above your newly seeded lawn by a couple of inches using stakes. (You do not want the grass to grow through any plastic netting, as you can’t easily remove it without taking the lawn with it, and it can cause immense problems down the line. Birds can also peck through netting left on the ground.) Make sure the bird netting is visible and taut to keep birds from getting caught and injured in it.
4. Cover With Burlap or Jute Netting
Burlap and jute netting are another moisture-retention method that is natural, biodegradable, and allows light and water to get through to the seed. Stake them down above your seeds and remove once the seeds germinate. You can buy burlap in rolls.
5. Hang Wind Chimes
Life is pretty scary for birds with predators around every corner, so smart birds prefer quiet areas, especially when landing on the ground with little cover nearby. Wind chimes and metal cans will disrupt that peace and scare off many birds whenever the wind passes.
Ultrasonic bird repellers aren’t effective, as most songbirds have the same hearing range as humans. So if you can’t hear it, the birds aren’t likely to either.
6. Install Motion-Activated Sprinklers
Motion-activated sprinklers can be a very effective option. When birds attempt to land on the lawn, they set off the motion detector, and the sprinkler turns on in a sudden burst. That’s enough to scare most birds off. The sprinkler will also keep the grass seed moistened throughout the day and scare off other creatures.
7. Install a Bird Feeder
You may wonder why you’d bother to install a bird feeder if birds would rather go for the lawn, but it’s actually easier for seed-eating birds to eat from a bird feeder than drop onto the lawn. Pick a place that feels safe from predators, that’s elevated and near cover, and fill the bird feeder with species’ appropriate bird feed. Sunflower seeds will attract the widest variety of birds. Birds will go for the tastier snacks in a safer place before they go for the grass seed.
8. Sow 50% More Seed
Or just accept that you’ll lose grass seed to birds, and sow 50% more seed than you normally would. Other species like American Mountain Ash trees use this same tactic: every few years, they produce a huge glut of red berries in a brief time. There are too many berries for the birds to eat during the season, and so the excess falls safely to the ground to germinate.
Birds Eating Grass Seed FAQs
Is it OK for birds to eat grass seed?
Grass seed is not toxic for birds and can be a food source for them. However, if they’re coated, they may suffer digestion problems. Penkoated by Pennington is toxic for many creatures.
What are robins eating in my lawn?
If you find birds pecking at your established lawn, then pests like grubs, chinch bugs, and sod webworms have overtaken your lawn. Birds like robins, starlings, sparrows, and even crows will tear up some grass roots in search of these tasty pests, but the damage is minimal compared to what the pests will wreak if left untreated.
Do robins eat grass seed?
Robins will occasionally eat seeds, but they’d rather eat worms, insects, and berries. They’re ground feeders, preferring to eat on the ground rather than up on a raised bird feeder. If you wish to attract them to your yard (they will eat common lawn pests!), use a ground feeding tray with their favourite meal of dried mealworms.
What grass seed varieties will birds not eat?
Unfortunately, birds will eat any species and variety of grass seed, unless they’re coated with bird repellent. Instead, go for the best grass seed varieties for your area. Use one or two of the above prevention methods to prevent birds from eating your grass seed.
Are grass seed coatings toxic to birds?
The Water Smart coating designed by Scotts is not toxic to birds, but these coated grass seeds cannot be digested and may cause other symptoms. However, because these seeds germinate faster, there’s less time for birds to eat them. The Penkoted coating designed by Pennington is toxic to many creatures, including cats, dogs, mice, and rabbits, and so should be avoided.
What is the best bird seed to keep birds away from grass seed?
The best seed to keep birds off your grass seed is sunflower, as it attracts the widest variety of birds. Black oil sunflowers work best as they have very thin shells that all seed-eating birds can crack open.
While normally you would worry about subsidizing common birds to unnaturally high populations, you’re trying to keep these species off the grass seed. If you find you love inviting birds into your yard, then check out seed varieties that target your favourite species.
Many bird mixes include fillers that birds just won’t eat, like millet, flax, and oats. They become waste, breed bacteria and fungus, and contaminate the remaining seed. Birds will toss them to the ground as waste. Check the ingredients of seed mixes or mix your own.
Can you cover grass seed with plastic?
You can cover grass seed with clear plastic sheets, but you need to be careful. The sun magnified through the clear plastic sheet will warm the soil up — but if it’s too hot, it’ll hurt the grass seed and kill any seedlings. (People use this intentionally to kill weeds.) This is best done in the spring and fall when temperatures are lower. Grass seed will germinate sooner because it’s kept warmer, while still getting the light it needs. Water well before applying, and keep on top of moisture levels as it won’t get any rain.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.