Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

Lawn Treatments That Are Safe for Birds


baby robin’s nest
Pesticides pose a serious threat to birds.

Are there any lawn treatments that are safe for birds? I stopped having a professional lawn treatment service because it drove the birds away. -Jean

Pesticides – including weed killers, fungicides, insecticides, and rodenticides – can be highly toxic to birds, both by directly poisoning them and by altering the ecosystem they depend on for survival. It’s estimated that at least 67 millions birds die in the U.S. each year due to pesticide toxicity. In addition to bird mortality, pesticides have been shown to harm birds by:

    mother bird and baby

  • Killing insects that are eaten by birds.
  • Accumulating in fish and small animals, which are then passed to predatory birds at higher doses.
  • Killing plants that produce edible seeds.
  • Eliminating vegetation used for nesting and escape from predators.
  • Causing nonlethal, but nonetheless dangerous, health issues among surviving birds, including thinned eggshells, suppressed immune systems, and disorientation while migrating.

Even products labeled “nontoxic” have an effect on the environment in ways we may not see or understand. In general, insecticides are pretty toxic across the board – not only do they destroy the birds’ insect food, but they generally contaminate the air, plants, leaves, seeds, and flowers, resulting in direct harm to the birds’ health. Weed killers have varying degrees of toxicity depending on the product and how it’s used. Even fertilizers are notorious for water pollution, which in turn affects both the birds and their food sources.

Predatory birds are threatened by toxins that accumulate in prey animals.

Chemicals to Avoid Using Around Birds

When choosing products for your lawn and garden, be sure to look at the ingredient list. The following is a list of pesticides known to be particularly harmful to birds. Some are commonly available in garden centers, and others may be used by a professional lawn service.

    woodpecker feeding baby birds in tree nest

  • Acephate
  • Aldicarb
  • Azinphos-methyl
  • Bendiocarb
  • Brodifacoum (rat poison)
  • Carbaryl (Sevin)
  • Carbofuran
  • Chlordane
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Diazinon
  • Dicofol
  • Dicrotophos
  • Dieldrin
  • Dimethoate
  • Dinoseb
  • DNOC (dinitro-o-cresol)
  • Endrin
  • Famphur
  • Fenitrothion
  • Fenthion
  • Heptachlor
  • Isofenphos
  • Lindane
  • Malathion
  • Methoxychlor
  • Methyl parathion
  • Monocrotophos
  • Paraquat
  • Parathion
  • Phorate
  • Phosphamidon
  • Trichlorofon

Choose Safer Alternatives

While no chemicals are completely safe, here are a few choices that are considered less toxic to birds:


  • 2, 4-D
  • Nematodes
  • Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis)
  • Corn gluten meal
  • Glyphosate
  • Insecticidal soaps and oils
  • Ladybugs, lacewings, wasps, and other predatory insects
  • Pyrethrum
  • Rotenone
  • Traps and species-specific baits
  • Vinegar

Tips for Bird-Friendly Gardening

As you look for solutions to problems in your yard, here are some tips for keeping your lawn safer for birds.

  • Don’t Fumigate: If nothing else, avoid large-scale spraying of any chemicals in your yard, even those considered organic or nontoxic. Birds’ respiratory systems are far more sensitive than ours, and they can easily be harmed by fumes.
  • Target Source: Instead of dispersing chemicals over the entire yard, target problems more directly with a lower-impact solution. For example, carefully spraying or painting herbicide directly onto the leaves of a problem weed will be less toxic than applying a weed control product to the whole yard.
  • Use Fewer Products: Focus on keeping your grass and garden healthy using compost, rich soil, proper mowing practices, and smarter plant choices, rather than fighting off problems with chemicals.
  • Remember the Ecosystem: Even nontoxic products, such as vinegar to kill weeds, can harm worms and insects in the soil, which then affects the birds that eat them. Whenever you approach a problem in your yard, consider the entire system, from insects to water runoff to native habitats. As much as possible, make sure your solutions touch only the problem, and not the world around it.

Always think of the birds before you spray!

Further Information


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3 Comments on “Lawn Treatments That Are Safe for Birds”

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  1. Gervais Harry Says:
    May 3rd, 2015 at 8:00 am

    I tried corn gluten for the first time [Scott’s product]: rain was expected about 36 hours later. The seagulls [about 40 of them] arrived before the rain, And I couldn’t get them to stay away. Next time I use it, I plan to put it on immediately before [after?] it begins to rain.
    Any comments?

  2. Karyn Says:
    May 30th, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    Are there any essential oils that kill lawn weeds but safe for birds? My dandelions are out of control in my yard. I need help but want to protect the robins that have babies in my back yard. Also, the rabbits are killing spots if my grass. Any suggestions safe for them?

  3. S. Niederman Says:
    July 16th, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    I live at Lake Tahoe California in a very biologically diverse region. I have a very beautiful garden and spend a lot of time in it. I don’t use weed and feed lawn products very much, however started having a lot of weeds so broadcasted weed and feed over the back lawn. We have a stellar jay nest outside the window. Within 24 hours the nestlings were all dead after the application. The following day I saw an adult jay eating it and it immediately started acting strangly with unusual bird calls and flight patterns. Finally 5 days after application a young robin yearling was pecking around the grounds yesterday, and I found it dead today. THEREFORE I WILL NEVER USE WEED AND FEED AGAIN UNLESS IT IS IN A LIQUID APPLICATION FORM, so that the birds won’t eat it as grit and die. I HAVE STOPPED USING PELLETED REGULAR FERTILIZERS BECAUSE THE BUNNY RABBITS EAT IT AND DIE. I’ll use liquid weed and feed minimally, perhaps use liquid fish emulsion as a weedfree lawn treatment and broadcast sterilized manure in the fall over the lawns as well as the flowerbeds.

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