None of us like to eat off dirty dishes, but when it comes to our bird feeders we seldom think about the accumulation of gunk that can build up, after weeks or months of putting bird seeds out and having countless birds eating from them. While it would be nice to think that birds are considerate of one another and fly to some other place before ‘pooping’, that is not how it works in nature and a bird feeder (especially a platform type) over time can become a place where disease can spread from bird to bird.
The four most commonly found diseases at feeders are: salmonella, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis, and avian pox. These are spread quite easily from bird to bird when they are crowded together at a feeder. Birds are also susceptible to mites and lice.
Yes, it is necessary to clean our bird feeders from time to time. The type of feeder determines the process and even the cleaning products you can use. Different organizations also offer different advice. According to the Humane Society you should clean your hanging feeders once every two weeks. If feeders can be brought inside and put into a sink or bucket of some sort, they suggest immersing them in a solution that is one part chlorine bleach to nine parts warm water (a 10% solution) – for a minute or two to disinfect. Use a stiff brush or scouring pad to scrub the surface clean and make sure to rinse the feeder thoroughly and dry completely before refilling.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a little different advice, suggesting that you wash your feeders in hot, soapy water. However, if there have been reports of salmonella in the area, or if you’ve noticed any sick birds in your yard, then use the bleach solution mentioned above. Bleach is toxic in itself and that is why you should use it sparingly.
Other options include using ammonia and water, Dawn dish soap, or vinegar and water. All of these products will help kill the bacteria or mold that can grow on feeders.
If the weather has been especially wet or lots and lots of birds have been coming to the feeders than you should wash them more frequently. Rain and continued damp conditions can lead to mold building up in the exposed seeds and on the feeder.
Look beneath the feeders too. If there is a build-up of shells, seeds or other waste, rake it up and dispose of in the garbage to reduce the risk of moldy or spoiled foods being eaten by birds or pets. If you can move your feeders to other locations in the yard, this would allow the ground beneath them to dry out and recover a bit.
Something else that most of us might not think about is sharp metal edges on feeders. These could cause injuries to you as well as the birds.
Another good idea is to provide a good number and variety of feeders. In this way, the birds do not end up being crowded or fighting for space at just one spot. Crowding together is an easy way to spread diseases.
Happily, I can say that after 29 years of feeding birds around our home, I have never noticed one exhibiting signs of ill health. But it is important to remain vigilant and make sure that the hospitality we are offering our bird friends is of the highest standards for health and safety.
By Kate Crowley