4 tips to caring for bird feeders

Bird-lovers can keep their feathered friends healthy and happy by regularly cleaning feeders. Here's how.

Many of us avian lovers long for this time of year. We hang up, suction cup or stake in the ground our feeders, fill them to the brim with seed, sneak back into the house and wait.

Before you know it, there are cardinals, chickadees, juncos, sparrows, doves and blue jays. They eat and bicker, waddle around, hop, flit away, come back, nibble, dip and dive until the seed is gone. But before you put out some more, take a closer look at your feeder and the surrounding area.

“Putting out food for the birds, it’s like you’re inviting them over to dinner,” said David Bonter, assistant director of Citizen Science, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  “You want sanitary conditions. It’s a good idea to keep it clean.”

Whether you realize it or not, germs and fungus can build up inside feeders, and seed can rot if it gets wet.

“Here in Syracuse it rains and snows horizontally,” said Joseph Folta, a wildlife professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “Checking feeders often and getting wet seed out is important.”

Birds get sick, too. They can get aspergillosis, an infection from fungus, and even conjunctivitis. Here are four things you can do to keep your birds healthy.

  1. Bonter recommends choosing feeders that are easy to wash, something you can take apart and clean.
  2. Ideally, you should clean and bleach your feeder each time before you fill it up with seed, said Folta. If you can’t do it every time, every two or three times.
  3. Wash your feeder with dish soap or some other detergent. After that, mix a 10 percent solution of bleach and water, and dip your feeder in. Make sure not to mix dish soap and bleach, as this can create a toxic gas. Do each step separately.
  4. Folta also recommends cleaning the area underneath the feeder, which can build up with seed and feces. Many of the larger birds such as doves and blue jays hang there, in addition to those night-time rascals like raccoons and opossums.

For more information on how to keep a happy and safe restaurant for feathered friends, or if you want to join bird watchers in logging your bird sightings, visit Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s Project Feeder Watch site.

Image: donjd2 / Flickr

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