Feeding birds is a wonderful way to help your yard’s avian visitors fuel up for migration and make it through a tough winter. It can also provide great opportunities for wildlife photography and observation. 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.
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. If you see a sick bird or one you suspect died from a disease outbreak, don’t pick it up or try to treat it yourself. Instead, follow these tips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, or call the National Wildlife Health Center for instructions.
To prevent the spread of illness in the birds that frequent your seed buffet, try these three steps:
Clean feeders regularly
The National Wildlife Health Center recommends cleaning bird baths and feeders with a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach. (If there is visible debris, scrub it off before soaking in the bleach solution.) Dry out the feeder before hanging it back up. Project FeederWatch, a joint effort between Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada, recommends cleaning seed feeders every two weeks or so. Double the frequency of cleaning if you suspect disease a-lurking.
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, Project Feederwatch recommends. That’ll also help prevent scattered food from attracting rodents. On snow-covered lawns, scraping off a few layers of snow should do the trick.
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.