Beware of Birdseed!
by Ruth S. Foster

We all like to feed our little feathered friends, so we buy good things for them to eat, like sunflower seeds, and niger and peanut hearts and white millet. Birds are smart and they soon figure out which hand feeds them, so they cheer us with their chirping and fluttering of wings to keep our rapt attention, and of course our outstretched hand.

But beware! Birdseed carries the eggs of meal moths. In hot weather these varmints hatch, eat starch, then pupate and turn into small tan moths with black markings. You can tell if you have them by the telltale sticky webs and powdery crumbs in seeds, crackers, cereal, nuts and flour.

These dastardly meal moths fly into your kitchen cabinets in search of places in which to lay another generation of eggs. Once inside the cabinets, you've had it for they are almost impossible to get rid of. You have to throw out all your dry food boxes, clean the cabinets and start over.

How well, I know! Chopped sunflower hearts were my undoing. I use sunflower hearts because according to my bird chart, everything except hummingbirds eat them.

During the heat wave of June we kept seeing all these moths flying around the kitchen. It took a while to identify the source... two bags of sunflower hearts. I found larvae (small, tan) pupating in picture frames, in envelope flaps, where the wall meets the ceiling. And every few days more moths would appear.

They are slow and easy to swat, but it's the ones you don't see who do the damage. I put bags of bread crumbs as bait near the birdseed corner for them to lay their eggs in, changing them every 2 weeks since their life cycle is about 30 days. I tried spraying those I saw flying, but they never dropped dead; they just hid in dark places. If you try to swat them, they drop as if dead, but then arise to fly again.

They infested the food cabinets, and were even living in the toaster. So a long needed spring cleaning began. It took 2 years to finally get rid of them. More or less. This spring I found larvae starting in some dry turkey stuffing inside a closed jar.

The Moral: If you must feed the birds, store the birdseed in the garage. Supposedly meal moths are killed in the freezer and don't breed well in cold weather. I keep crackers, cookies and cold cereal in the ice box now.

While on the subject of birdseed don't put it on the ground because it can attract raccoons, skunks and other carriers of dreaded rabies. Also, in bear country, set feeders away from the house. If the bears find them, it's wise to stop putting out feed. Bears are large, dangerous animals, not cuddly teddys. Their population has become quite large, and since they are protected, they do not fear humans.