Seed Balls and Birds

Instinct and Intelligence

An American Goldfinch at my feeder.

An American Goldfinch at my feeder.

I love birds. I have two feeders outside my work room window and keep them well stocked with seeds, fruits, and suet. I don’t consider myself a birder by any stretch, but I have done some thinking about birds and seed bombs.The picture on left is a young male goldfinch appropriately feeding at my feeder Spring 2013.

Many people report that birds snatch their seed bombs. It is a fairly safe assumption to make that the birds determine that the seed bombs are food sources, which, of course,  they are.  Seed bombs look like eggs and nuts, two things that birds are happy to eat, and they contain seeds.

What we can do is change their relative value as food sources. One way to do this is to reduce the number of seeds in each seed bomb. If we load 50 seeds in each seed bomb, the bird will quickly learn that pecking apart a seed bomb is well worth the effort. If we put the minimal number of seeds to produce a 95% germination rate, the seed balls will be less attractive to the birds. We may lose a few to birds as they explore, but they will soon loose interest. Along these lines, we can reduce the relative value of the seed balls as a food source by placing a very easy food source nearby. The birds will likely pay greater attention th the pile of sunflower seeds and soon forget about the seed bombs with their hard-to-extract and scant seeds.

A thieving corvid (a magpie).

A thieving corvid (a magpie).

Author Bernd Heinrich (Mind of the Raven, A Year in the Maine Woods, Winter World to name just a few.) spent decades closely watching corvids (Mind of the Raven). He observed that they watch other animals, even other ravens, crows, and jays stash their food . They then go and get it. If you walk around, depositing things on the soil within the line of sight of a corvid, you can bet they’ll be checking it out shortly after you leave the area! My son left a dozen ping pong balls in the back yard once. Within the same day, each one had a large hole pecked in it, where an observant crow had tried to find what it thought was the egg’s contents. They will do the same for seed balls. (The image of the magpie and what appears to be a seed bomb is from the web. If you have any information on the original source, please let me know.)

As with most things, plants do better with a healthy start. Although there is a lot of excitement about the ‘Throw n Grow’ possibilities of seed balls, I find that taking a brief moment to heel them into the ground has the following benefits:

  • The bombs will have good contact with the soil moisture, thermal, and microbial reservoirs.
  • They will stay put.
  • The seed bombs will be at least somewhat hidden from foragers.

For these reasons, heeling them into the ground by stepping on them when the soil is moist is an excellent precaution to take.

In summary

  1. Don’t over stuff your seed balls with seeds. This teaches the birds that they are GOOD food sources and can stress the seedlings.
  2. Stock some easy-access high quality bird food nearby, about 20 feet away from your seed bombing efforts.
  3. Take a moment to scope your site for intelligent birds and come back when the raven isn’t perched on the nearby spruce.
  4. Plant when the soil is moist and soft. Heel the seed balls into the soil and cover them with thatch or a leaf.

You may loose a couple to the birds, but most will be there for you to grow when they are good and ready!


  1. I ordered Norfolk Island Pine seeds from a coanmpy regularly seen on the web. I received in the packet, not seeds but pieces of vegetation sort of fan-shaped with no instructions as to handle these vs regular seeds so I handled them the way I would seeds and potted them in peat pots with spagnum as the medium. Only one has germinated so far. I did email the coanmpy asking about the above and got no answer which will eliminate me from buying anything again from them. Howeve it is fun just to experiment with seeds. I recently found a person in my town (Greenville, SC) who deals in bonsai trees and he showed me a zip bag with moist soil and seeds which he had kept in the refrigerator for several months and it appeared that every single seed had germinated.This person has an array of items which I have purchased a few of as needed and has been very helpful.Also, I had used a Jiffy Pot tray with a heating pad which came with it, not costly and very efficient so I put some of the seeds I had ordered from brand X coanmpy and which had not germinated in a bag with damp spagnum and am awaiting the results.The coanmpy I purchased the seeds from made no mention of cold stratification, an interesting procedure, but helpful, if not necessary, in getting seeds to germinate.I guess the moral is to take care who we deal wih when buying anything and ask questions before ordering by phone or email.If there is no contact info my advice is not to buy from them.

    • There are many seed companies out there that don’t include directions for stratifying seeds. We try to be as helpful as possible and guarantee our product to protect our customers and assure them that we’re here to help their garden grow!

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