Senior editor Alisa Opar recently offered up the five best bird feeders for wintertime. But it’s not enough to set your feeder and forget it. You need to clean it out, or you risk inadvertently causing the birds that visit to get sick. The same goes for birdbaths. The Grand Rapids Press ran a great article about this, which you can find here.
Some of the more common diseases that birds can spread through feeders include house finch eye disease (the colloquial name for mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, which can infect more than just the bird for which it’s named), salmonellosis (caused by salmonella bacteria), aspergillosis (a fungal respiratory disease), and avian pox.
To prevent the spread of illness in the birds that frequent your seed buffet, try these three steps:
1. Clean feeders regularly, recommends the National Wildlife Health Center, part of the U. S. Geological Survey. Rinse the feeder well with soapy water, then dunk it into a bleach-water solution. “A monthly cleaning with a nine-to-one water-bleach solution will deter bacteria in plastic, ceramic, and metal feeders,” reads an Audubon at Home guide to Feeder Maintenance & Hygiene. “A dilute vinegar solution (three-to-one) or non-fragranced biodegradable soap should be used on wood to minimize fading.” Dry out the feeder before hanging it back up. Double the frequency of cleaning if you suspect disease a-lurking.
2. Tidy below the feeder. This can mean raking or shoveling up feces and hulls (seed casings)—particularly those that are moldy, wet, or spoiled—and throwing them out, recommends Project FeederWatch, a joint effort between Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. “Bird food scattered on the ground also can attract rodents.” On snow-covered lawns, scraping off a few layers of snow should do the trick, the Audubon guide states.
3. Share the wealth. Spread out food among a couple feeders so there’s less opportunity for sick birds to touch and contaminate each other, says the National Wildlife Health Center. “Crowding only expedites the spread of disease,” the Audubon guide reads, “so give the birds variety and plenty of room.”
If you see what you think is a sick bird, don’t try to treat it yourself. Instead, call the National Wildlife Health Center for instructions. Also, Cornell Lab of Ornithology tracks cases of avian illness so report any sick birds there, too.