How do I Store Food to Avoid Moths and Other Creatures?
Concerned about how/where to store your bird food? Worried that it may become invested with moths, bugs, mice or other creatures? Proper food storage is key to keeping your bird food safe and healthy for the birds, as well as ensuring it lasts as long as possible (up to a year if done properly).
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Indian Meal Moths and Mediterranean Flour Moths
Indian Meal Moth (Plodia interpunctella), Photo by Kristen Martyn
The Indian Meal Moths (Plodia interpunctella) and Mediterranean Flour Moth (Ephestia kuehniella) are two common insects found in bird seed. For the birds they are a yummy added bonus as birds will gladly eat the larvae (caterpillars) and cocoons of these insects. More often than not it is the larvae (caterpillars) of the moths that are found in or on seed bag. When they larvae hatch they eat the seeds you may also notice overtime clumps of webbing in the seed. The webbing is made by the larvae once they spin a cocoon. When they have matured they will hatch out of the cocoons as an adult moth. They are perfectly harmless to the birds and the birds will enjoy eating them as a tasty snack. However, bird seed and other foods should be kept outdoors (see some more information on this below) to avoid the moths spreading into pantry food items such as oats, flour, rice and other grains.
Rice and Grain Weevils
The Rice Weevil (Sitophilus oryzae) and Grain Weevil (Sitophilus granarius) are also common species of insects found in bird seed. They are small black beetles (2-3 mm in length) and can be very tough to get rid of. Again, bird seed and other foods should be kept outdoors (see some more information on this below) to avoid the moths spreading into pantry food items such as oats, flour, rice and other grains.
Avoiding Indian Meal Moths or Grain Weevils
Jim Carpenter, the founder of Wild Birds Unlimited, writes in his book, The Joy of Bird Feeding*, the following:
“To avoid hatching meal moths or other insects, keep bird seed in as cool a place as possible outside of the house, such as your garage or porch. Do not buy more than you can use up in several weeks. Bird seed is more likely to attract insects in the summer heat, so this is when you must keep it cool and use it up quickly. I often put small bird seed bags and bird food cylinders in the freezer during the summer.
If you notice any webs or larvae, immediately remove the bag or container and isolate it from the rest of your seed; if the trash is your only means of disposal, wrap the seed up in a large plastic bag and throw it away. I throw the buggy seed on the ground in the woods, where the birds eat all the insects. Then I wash out all containers with a spray hose and use a 10-percent bleach solution to kill the remaining eggs. After rinsing and drying the containers, they’re ready for fresh seed. Never use pesticides near your bird seed”.
*Excerpt from The Joy of Bird Feeding – The Essential Guide to Attracting and Feeding Our Backyard Birds  by Jim Carpenter, founder of Wild Birds Unlimited.
Rodents and Other Critters
Left: Mouse Species Photo by Kristen Martyn. Right: Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus), Photo by Kristen Martyn.
Left: Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Photo by Kristen Martyn. Right: Raccoon (Procyon lotor).
To avoid problems with creatures such as mice, chipmunks, squirrels and raccoons, store all food in chew-proof containers made of metal or a very strong plastic. Do not store food containers outside on their own, ensure they are safely inside a shed, garage or cabinet.
Buying seed in larger bags is usually more cost effective but can be hard to manage. It can be convenient to store smaller quantities in easy to carry buckets or pails that you can easily bring to your feeders for filling, while keeping the balance of the seed in heavier storage pails. Refill your smaller containers as needed. But remember, don’t buy more than you can use quickly!
Bird seed must be kept cool and dry to ensure it does not spoil or grow mold. We strongly recommend not storing seed in the house, instead store in a protected outdoor space such as in a garage, shed or enclosed porch. While it’s tempting to buy seed in bulk when it is on sale, the longer it sits in storage, the higher the risk of infestation (especially during the warm, humid summer months). It is important to only buy what you can use within a couple weeks. Ensure seed is constantly rotated and do not fill new seed on top of old seed.
Top Tips for Avoiding Pests in Your Bird Food:
- Store bird food in containers made of metal or very strong plastic
- Clean any spillage up immediately
- Keep food in a cool, dry place out of the house, such as a garage or porch
- Storing bird food products at 18˚C (65 ˚F) will curtail most insect activity
- Only buy as much as you can use up within a few weeks, especially in warmer weather- insects favour infesting food stored for extended periods of time at high temperatures (over 18˚C/65 ˚F)
- If possible, store surplus food in the freezer until needed
- Do not pour new bird seed on top of old in a container
If You Discover Pests in Your Seed:
- Immediately isolate any seed bag/container where webs or larvae have been seen
- If the trash is your only option for disposal, wrap the seed in large plastic bag
- Wash all containers with a hose and a 10% bleach solution to kill any remaining eggs
- Rinse and let dry for 24 hours before filling with fresh seed
- Never use pesticides near anything related to bird seed
- Commercially made meal moth traps can be obtained at many hardware stores and can help reduce an infestation should one occur
- Pheromone moth traps can be used to determine the presence of meal moths, but as they may only trap male moths, the may not be effective to get rid of an entire infestation