Mess Under Nyjer Feeders

Last Updated on July 18, 2021 by Nancie

(American Goldfinches Drop a Lot of Seed and Shell Under Nyjer Feeders)

American Goldfinches, while wonderful birds, can create quite a mess under feeders when they arrive in a large flock. This year’s flock in my yard is huge. I already figured out how to solve the mess they made under the sunflower heart feeders. Now I’m working on the mess under njyer feeders.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

American Goldfinches on Nyjer Feeder

Goldfinches Drop A Lot of Seed Under Feeders

American Goldfinches really seem to like my yard. I’ve had large flocks of them for quite a few years. But this year’s flock numbers over seventy birds and they’ve taken over most of the bird feeders. If you only have a few goldfinches, you may not see a lot of seed under their feeders. But with a large flock, you start to realize just how much seed they drop while they eat. The almost whole sunflower hearts they dropped under my caged seed feeders turned into a solid layer of mush under those feeders due to Maryland’s rainy winter. Applying a fresh layer of mulch under those feeders took care of that problem. But what to do about the more regular mess under the nyjer feeders?

Nyjer Seed

Mess Under Nyjer Feeders is a mix of Shell and Whole Seed

Nyjer is a tiny little sliver of a seed. Small birds like finches and sparrows have the right kind of beak to be able to remove the seed’s shell in order to eat the seed. The black shell then drops to the ground under the feeder. But some unshelled seed typically falls as well, so the ground under the feeders tends to build up with a mix of shell and intact seed.

This isn’t all bad because some goldfinches in the flock, as well as quite a few types of sparrows, are perfectly willing to hop down on the ground to seek out the intact seed among the shells. The problem is that if you have several of these feeders close together as I do, and a ton of goldfinches, a thick layer of shell mess can build up under the feeders if you aren’t careful. It’s fairly impossible for my eye to detect how much is just shell and how much is full seed. It is probably mostly shell though. Surely these shells must break down over time, but if they do, it is a very slow process. If you don’t keep up with it, the mix of shell, seed and bird poop under the feeder can get moldy and disgusting. Disease can follow.

So the mess under the feeders needs to be kept cleaned up. I have to admit that I tend to procrastinate longer than I should sometimes in the cold winter months. And I’m tired of having to clean it up to be honest. So I’m looking at getting the birds to do it for me.

Goldfinches on the Feeder and Juncos Eating Nyjer Under the Feeder

Moving Nyjer Feeders to Avoid the Mess Underneath

My nyjer tube feeders are ONLY filled with nyjer seed. Squirrels in my yard don’t seem to eat nyjer, so goldfinches, along with a few House Finches and every few years a few Pine Siskins, are left alone. While all my other types of bird feeders are carefully positioned to keep them out of a squirrel’s jumping range, these nyjer-only feeders don’t need to be baffled. Their placement is much more flexible.

I have four of these nyjer-only tube feeders. Originally they were all hanging from branches of a maple tree just a few feet from the house in the side yard. Being very close to the house, the birds don’t get enough speed to hurt themselves if they get startled by a hawk and fly toward the windows right next to the feeders.

A year or so ago, I moved one of these feeders over to a pole in the back yard, leaving three on the maple tree. Last week, after doing one of my periodic raking/shoveling-outs under the nyjer feeders, I moved two more of them.

I left one feeder hanging on the maple tree branch in the side yard. Another one was hung on a branch in the feeder area close to the house in the back yard. The last one was hung on a branch much farther out in the yard. (That location is more than thirty feet from the house, so the birds shouldn’t be confused by the windows. Plus, the windows on that side of the house nearest to the feeders have zen bird blinds over them.)

Dark-Eyed Juncos Eating Spilled Nyjer Under Feeders

Not Allowing the Mess to Build Up Under the Feeders At All

This approach to placing the nyjer feeders does mean that the goldfinches no longer have their own isolated feeding area where the whole flock can gather. But they have been all over the sunflower heart feeders that are all over the yard this winter anyway.

So how does this fix my problem of mess under the nyjer feeders? By spreading out the feeders, the seed and shell shoudn’t accumulate in one concentrated area. Right now (in very early spring), I have a yard full of Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Throated Sparrows, who seem quite happy to nibble nyjer seed on the ground. Between the sparrows and the finches, the dropped intact seed should be eaten. I just need to move each feeder periodically to keep the shells from building up.

Moving feeders around for this purpose isn’t an original thought of mine. It’s something I’ve seen recommended in the past for feeders in general. I’ve always ignored it because I’m so careful about my feeder placement. But these nyjer-only feeders really are so easy to move and I have a lot of potential tree branches in the yard, so I should be able to keep moving them around. I’ll update this post as I figure out how often I need to move them to avoid future mess building up under the feeders.

Note: Remember the nyjer feeder I moved a year or so ago? That feeder is on a slope. Rain washes any seed shells away, so I’ve never had a problem under that feeder.

American Goldfinches on One of the Moved Nyjer Feeders

Goldfinches and the Moved Feeders

You might wonder how the goldfinches reacted to my moving their feeders. Keep in mind that I’ve got a huge flock settled in the yard for the bulk of every day. When I go out to fill or clean up under feeders, there are usually a whole bunch of birds watching me. They wait for me to get out of their way so they can get back to eating. So when I moved these feeders, they were up in the trees watching me do it. Within five minutes they were on the feeders in their new locations. And not long after that, the juncos were hopping around under the feeders looking for dropped seed.

Mess Under Your Feeders?

How do you handle keeping the area under your feeders clean? What is the surface like under your feeders? Do you move your feeders around or leave them in the same spots? I’d love to hear about what you do. Please be welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below.


Learn More About American Goldfinches

Attracting American Goldfinches

Fall American Goldfinches

Goldfinches Dropping Sunflower Seed

An Oddly Colored Goldfinch

American Goldfinches (on All About Birds Website)

Want to read more posts about birds? When you subscribe below, you’ll get an email whenever a new post goes up (and ONLY then. Promise!)

Please Note: My blog includes some Amazon affiliate links. The small fees they provide help cover my site costs.

14 thoughts on “Mess Under Nyjer Feeders

  1. Build-up of seed husks under feeders over time presents a real potential health issue that can’t be neglected. I’ve had more feeders up this year than in the past, so I’ve seen the need for this more so this year due to so much rainy weather, same as you. I’ve tried laying a large piece of rigid plastic or wood under the feeder, which makes it easier to sweep up and more frequently dispose of the mess. Once the rainy weather is over, I remove the rigid pieces to prevent the grass from dying underneath. Of course, as you did, spreading mulch may be a good solution too if you don’t have grass under your feeder.

    1. Hi Diana,
      Interesting way of handling it. It would definitely make sweeping easier. Most of my feeders are on grass, dirt or mulch so I have to rake, which never gets it all.
      Thanks for sharing,

  2. I’m also in Maryland and have a number of goldfinches. I’m less willing to move my feeder as it is perfectly positioned to view from the window. So I bought an inexpensive 4″ plastic plate, drilled small drain holes in it, and used caulk to stick it the bottom of my thistle feeder (the yellow one with screw off bottom.) I wipe out and throw away the seed that’s collected on the plate whenever I happen to think about it. So far, so good. Granted, the plastic plate looks a little homey/homely but needs must.

    1. Hi Alyson,
      Interesting. Do you get extra goldfinches eating from the plate, kind of like extra feeder space?

  3. For all kinds of shell, seed accumulation a strong (think gas) leaf blower can disperse the build up and move it to a mulch bed or spread it around where it can break down. I have a mulch bed handy to the feeders.

  4. Interesting post. I have a related if not entirely similar problem/question: I have a feeder hanging from the branch of a fig tree in a pot on my balcony in Bangkok heavily patronized by a small flock of spice finches. The discarded hulls, of course, fall into the pot. Is that going to be a problem? Or will they just decompose?

    1. Hi Betsy,
      I’ve found that it really depends on the seed you are using in the feeder. Nyjer seed shells must do so very slowly because I find it tends to build up over time. If you don’t clean it up periodically, you’ll wind up with a thick, unhealthy layer of matted shells under the feeder. I’m not sure how your fig tree would like it.

      Sunflower seed shells may be a bit better in decomposing, but the shells (but not the seed inside) are allelopathic and so can interfere with many plants growing. Typically you’ll wind up with bare soil. I’m not sure how the fig would react. If you are using sunflower, you could alternatively try the shelled kind. It is more expensive but you are not paying for shells that birds won’t eat and which can harm plants underneath. That said, if the birds drop seeds under your feeder, you may find that some will be hunting around on the ground for fallen seed, and all those little feet can create surprisingly bare ground. This might be a problem for ground cover or other small plants, although my guess is that it probably wouldn’t harm the tree.

      Another common seed (at least here in the US) is safflower. Those shells can build up if there is a lot of it but does tend to decompose over time better than nyjer seed shells. It is also not allelopathic. Not all birds eat safflower but quite a few (at least here in Maryland) do.

      My suggestion would be to keep an eye on the shells on the ground under the tree and not allow them to build up. If you are using sunflower in the shell, try switching to a shelled version. This would be better for the fig tree and would also be better for the birds as damp seeds/shells on the ground can be unhealthy.

      Hope this is helpful,

  5. We have a rose bush under our nyjer feeder that is all but dead. It sends up new shoots now and then but they die too. I suspect that nyjer seed oil is too acidic for the rose bush.

    1. Hi Gus,
      That’s interesting. I’m sorry to hear that. Are the nyjer seed shells built up in a layer under the feeder? The individual shells are tiny but if you get enough of them built up over time, it could possibly block water from getting to the soil and the bush. Or you may be right and something in the shells is not playing nice with the rose bush.

  6. I know I’m late to the game for this post but I wanted to share that when the weather is dry, I use a dust buster twice a day to vacuum up the seed mess underneath. It works quite well!

    1. Hi Michele,
      Thanks for the tip! I think cleaning up often is probably key too and not just because birds stay healthier that way. Let it accumulate and it becomes a much bigger job down the road!

    1. Hi Charles,
      Thanks. I’ve seen something similar before but not this one. Looks interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.