Are you regularly filling your bird feeder only to wake in the morning and find them empty? You know it’s not the birds as they will feed through the day. So what animals eat bird seed at night?
There are a variety of animals that will eat birdseed at night. In the USA the main culprits are rodents, squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, opossum, raccoons, deer, and bears. These animals are opportunistic eaters and bird feeders are an easy food source especially when supplies are scarce.
The problem is that filling your bird feeder every day is not cheap. When you want to attract the local birds, it’s frustrating that these animals are eating up your main attraction.
This guide will take you through the nuances of each animal that may be raiding your feeders overnight. We’ll also give you some advice on how to stop them from emptying your bird feeders.
Let’s get started
What Animals Eat Bird Seed At Night?
There are several suspects that can be stealing your birdseed. We’ll look at each one and give you tips on how to stop them from coming into your yard.
Mice and rats are the smallest animal suspects. That’s because bird seed does attract them to your yard.
A lot of the seeds and grains that birds eat are the same food that mice and rats eat.
Rodents will mainly feed on the leftover seed and hull that the birds have thrown on the ground. For that reason, it’s best to switch to a ‘no mess’ birdseed (like this). Otherwise, you’ll need to clean underneath your feeder every day.
If you have an open tray ground feeder, then it’s fair game for any animals especially rodents. It’s literally offering food on a plate for them. If the problem is a ground feeder then you need to switch to a hanging style feeder instead.
Rodents usually won’t climb to get to hanging feeders. Yet a very hungry one might. The best way to stop this is to use a feeder baffle (this one is the bestselling option). Then they won’t be able to maneuver over this to get to the seed.
You won’t be surprised to find squirrels on this list, as they’ll rob your birdfeeder in broad daylight too. Yet squirrels are opportunistic eaters and will try to fatten up on your birdseed or cache it away for winter.
Squirrels particularly love to eat black oil sunflower seed and corn. So you may want to switch up what seed you’re offering to stop them raiding your feeders. Safflower seeds or spiced seeds are the perfect alternatives as squirrels hate them but birds love them.
Another great way to stop squirrels on your feeders is to use one which is weight activated (like this). These will only open when lighter birds are perched. Or using a squirrel baffle is another way to stop them from getting into your birdseed easily.
You may also want to consider setting up a separate squirrel feeding station in another area of your yard. If you offer only food they like, they’ll likely leave your bird feeder alone.
You should also check out our guide on how to keep squirrels away from your yard.
Just like squirrels, chipmunks are keen bird seed eaters. You may find this happens a lot more during winter when they take a short period to forage for food during hibernation.
They need to find a lot of food fast and your bird feeders are ideal for raiding.
The best way to stop chipmunks is to use the techniques I’ve advised for squirrels. The baffle is one of the most effective solutions.
I’d also recommend moving any hanging bird feeder to long thin Shepard’s poles which the chipmunk find difficult to climb.
Striped skunks don’t climb so they’re unlikely to be the culprit for any empty hanging feeders. Yet ground feeders will be easily emptying by a striped skunks skunk overnight.
Although spotted skunks can climb and will easily attempt to get at your hanging bird feeders.
Skunks mainly forage on the ground, so any bird food that is available near ground level will be devoured if they’re hungry.
The best solution to stop your bird feeders from attracting skunks is to use the ‘no mess’ birdseed. I’d also highly recommend a birdfeeder with a tray (this is my favorite) that catches any seeds chucked by the birds. This will cut down on how much seed waste is left on the ground for the skunks to hoover up overnight.
Possums can be a bit of a nightmare for your birdfeeders. They are really good climbers and large enough to scratch and knock over a feeder until it empties.
Possums are mainly found in the central to eastern states and pacific west coast states so you may be lucky enough not to have them in your area.
One of the best ways you can spot a possum is to fill your feeder with just enough seed to last them for one day. This prevents any seed from being in the feeder overnight for possums to steal. Otherwise, you can take in your feeders at night.
You want to try and stop possums from climbing up your feeder poles at night and emptying them. A larger pole-shaped baffle is better than the cone ones (this one is ideal).
Raccoons will eat pretty much anything they can get their hands on. That means your bird feeder is most definitely attracting them to your yard. They are crafty creatures and very good climbers so they’ll work hard to find solutions to get to your feeder.
Just like with possums it’s best to either underfill your feeders or take them in at night.
Again the large baffle is a good solution to stop the raccoon from getting to your feeder. Make sure your feeder is on a thin pole as the raccoons find it harder to grip to climb up them. It won’t stop them, but they’ll waste a lot of energy trying.
Weight-activated bird feeders are ideal to stop raccoons as they won’t get easy access to the food. The raccoons will happily hand onto your feeders and try to eat as much as possible. You’ll want to make sure the feeders are well secured you the hanger to stop them from being knocked onto the ground.
For more tips check out my guides on how to keep raccoons out of your yard or the best raccoon repellents.
Deer can easily reach bird feeders that are around 6ft high. So if you think they are safe on poles then you may have to reconsider. Deer happily eat seed and grain as part of their diet when other green vegetation is scarce.
A buck can easily use its antlers to knock a birdfeeder to the ground. Usually, they’ll pop open on the impact and provide the deer with all the birdseed goodies inside.
Deer can be quite skittish so it’s not that difficult to spook them away from your feeders. A motion-activated repellent can easily do the trick (this is the best one).
Deer can be a nuisance for your yard, so check out my guide for 14 ways to keep deer out of your garden.
Bears can be a big problem, literally! Bear will detect the smell from your bird feeders and come into your yard to feed. The bears don’t mess about they will simply find your feeder and damage any pole or branches the feeder is on then rip it apart for the food inside.
If you have bears in your yard there is often little you can do to deter them. Unless you have a large or electric fence to keep them out. Other repellent methods are ineffective on hungry bears.
The best way is basically to remove the source of food they are coming for. This can be annoying as it means no food for the birds. The good news is that bears start to hibernate around October. This gives you the opportunity to put the feeders back for birds during the winter.
How to catch The culprit
Unless you know what animals are causing the damage then any solutions you put in place may not work. Let’s go through some ways you can find out what’s causing the damage and get the right solutions in place.
Set up a trail cam
Using a trail cam pointed at your feeder is going to save you a lot of time and effort to tackle your bird feeder issue. This is a great quality inexpensive brand that I’d highly recommend.
We often don’t catch the culprits because they feed at night when we are asleep. Even if you stay awake, the darkness will make it hard for you to see what’s going on.
Not only will a trail camera help you to figure out what animal is emptying your feeder. But you’ll also learn how they are doing it.
Honestly, it will save your sanity. I once spent 6 months waking up to an empty bird feeder on my lawn each morning. I’d tried all the common techniques to prevent it from happening, but still, it continued. I was completely confused.
So I set up a trail cam at my feeder. I could see that we had a crow who was coming along early every morning. It was picking up the feeder handle with its beak and throwing it to the ground to eat. I would have never have guessed that was the culprit.
The footage you get will probably provide you with hours of entertainment seeing what antics these animals get up to in the night.
A trail cam is great for you to see birds that visit your yard when you’re not around. Or perhaps even help you with you have a bird that has such a fleeting visit you that you find it hard to ID.
Assess the damage
Often you may be able to tell which animal has attacked your feeder by assessing the damage to the rest of your yard.
Animals such as raccoons, possums, and bears will raid your bins for other scraps of food.
Animals such as rodents, deer, and raccoons may also help themselves to plants or crops from fruit trees or vegetable gardens.
Skunks and possums may leave a horrible stench in your yard if they’ve been spooked during a feeding session.
Look for scat and trail marks
Another great way to find out which animals if coming to your yard is to look for their poop or trail marks. Trail marks can be quite easy to detect in soil or if there is snow on the ground.
Poop will often be around wherever a lot of these animals are. Animals often have distinctive poop and a few will often pass waste as they eat.
Be careful when looking for animals scat as some animals such as raccoon poop can be extremely dangerous for your health.
Finding the culprit responsible for emptying your bird feeder is the first step toward getting solutions in place to stop them. There are a huge variety of animals that can be culprits. Yet there are easy ways to find out who it is such as using a trail cam or looking for evidence they’ve left behind.
Once you can pinpoint your birdfeeder bandit then get those solutions in place to keep your feeders well stocked and your birds well fed.
6 thoughts on “What Animals Eat Bird Seed at Night?”
I have put some feeders in the yard to cater to my birds, but unfortunately it also attracts some guests who should not come to my garden. Some small rodents like mice, rats and squirrels or big ones like raccoons have come to my feeder at night, even though I have built a barricade it doesn’t affect that they took my feeder away.
Sorry to hear that Steve. These animals can be real pests and cost you a lot of money by emptying your feeders each night. One way you can deter a few animals is by using motion detector lights to frighten them. Also, predator urine can be effective at keeping some of these animals away from your yard. Check out some of the guides I’ve linked to for more tips on keeping away specific animals.
Thanks for the helpful advice. With these methods, I no longer have to worry about any animals visiting my feeder at night.
I appreciate the article but it still doesn’t answer my problem. I have 2 types of feeders being attacked. The “squirrel-proof” feeders on poles can be attacked by light-weight animals like chipmunks or mice and could be reached by deer or bears. The other is on a long string 7′ above the ground with a cover above it . I don’t see how any rodent could climb down the string and get to the feeder and there are no footprints in the snow to suggest deer or bears. I am at a loss to explain the thieves.
Hi Jim, it may be a combination of animals who are the cause. Small rodents, such as mice, can easily climb a thin piece of string. Keep an eye out for any sign of animals droppings which may give further clues. If you’re still scratching your head, a low-cost animal tracker camera may be the best option to find the culprit.
Thank you “Birds and Wild”
Will mice eat about 6 cups of bird seed in a night? This is the amount in the bird feeder. Also, I do have a metal cover above the feeder which the mice would have to climb around to get to the seed.