Jul 22, 2020 | Featured Web Article

Reminder: Wash Your Bird Feeders!

What is the best feeder for your backyard birds? A clean one! Photo by Heather Poole.

Although it is rare—even unheard of—for humans to become sick from handling a bird feeder, there is no doubt that microorganisms flourish on their surface. That’s why it’s important for you to wash your hands after handling your feeders, including after refilling them. Much more of a threat are illnesses and diseases spread among the birds that visit and share feeders.

To keep your feeder birds healthy, and to prevent the spread of disease, follow these steps:

  1. Clean your feeders and birdbaths regularly—at least once a month, and more often during periods of heavy use. Wash nectar feeders every time before refilling.
  2. Wait until your feeders are empty, or nearly so, before washing. Do not reuse seed that was in your dirty feeders; it may be invisibly contaminated with disease-carrying microorganisms.
  3. Before washing, scrape out as much gunk and debris as possible and throw it away.
  4. If necessary, use a screwdriver and wrench to disassemble the feeder completely to extract rotting seed from otherwise inaccessible areas of the feeder.
  5. Wash your feeders in a utility tub or a bucket, and not in your kitchen sink.
  6. Use liquid dish soap to remove gunk if necessary, but be sure to rinse extra thoroughly. Note: Dish soap does not disinfect contamination, and is not necessary.
  7. Using a solution of nine-parts water to one-part bleach, scrub the feeder with a brush and/or bottle brush, then let it soak in the solution for ten minutes. Rinse well, and let it air-dry.

As part of your monthly (or more frequent) bird-feeder cleaning efforts, attend to the ground beneath your feeders. Ground-feeding birds such as doves and pigeons, sparrows, quail, and many other birds forage beneath feeders for spilled seed. If that seed or the hulls are contaminated, disease can spread to birds that have never touched your feeders. Rake up waste hulls and throw them away. Spread a thick layer of wood mulch beneath the feeder. Relocate your feeder at least a few feet away from the previous location several times a year, and plant grass or wildflowers in the previous location. It will already have been well-fertilized!

If you are not willing to commit to keeping your bird feeders clean, it is better to take them down and stop feeding the birds. Birds can find food and survive without human help, but they might not survive a contaminated bird feeder.

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