Feeding and attracting birds is a source of joy for gardeners. Natural food supplies for birds decline drastically from first frost until spring vegetation growth.

Fall clean-up in the garden also means erecting and filling the bird feeders for the winter enjoyment of our gardens. However, those feeders can be a source of disease for the birds we love to watch on cold wintery days. Common bird diseases that may be spread at our feeders are Avion Pox, Conjunctivitis, and Salmonellosis.


Avion Pox

Photo by Darien Williams

Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis




Consider this: 

– Salmonella bacteria can cause sickness in birds and is transmitted through the digestive system.

– Crowded conditions at large feeding stations increase the likelihood of spreading disease.

– Mold spreads rapidly on wet grain when uneaten bird food and droppings are allowed to accumulate on feeders. Viral and fungal diseases can kill birds.

– Birds bathe and drink all year round. A fresh water supply is most important in winter when summer sources of water are frozen.  Bird bath heaters are readily available and keep water from freezing.

What is the best way to clean your bird feeders?

New feeders ought to be rinsed in warm water and dried before filling with bird seed or suet.

Previously used feeders, older feeders and water bowls need to be thoroughly cleaned to prevent disease transmission.

Remove all sodden grain and droppings from feeders. Platform feeders can get especially dirty.

Scrub away all visible debris on feeders with a firm bristled brush before cleaning with bleach.

Soak and scrub with a dilute bleach solution. (1 part bleach to 9 parts warm water). DO NOT exceed bleach portion and rinse thoroughly.

Empty water source, remove all debris and scrub basin with a firm bristled brush at least every other day. Renew with fresh water.  Avoid using bleach when cleaning water sources.

Finally, remember that prevention is the key. To enjoy the winter garden, you should regularly clean your feeders even when there are no signs of disease.

What to Do if you see disease at your feeder?

Take down the feeders for one week. Wash the feeders and replace the bird food with clean fresh food. If sick birds return, be sure to wash the feeders at least weekly.  Report sick birds to your local birding authority.

Learn More at these websites:

Cornell Sick Birds and Bird Diseases https://feederwatch.org/learn/sick-birds-and-bird-diseases/

Cornell Feeder Types and Safe Feeding Environment https://feederwatch.org/learn/feeding-birds/#safe-feeding-environment

More on this site about Birds:

Attracting Birds to Your Garden

Bird Suet Recipe

Photo Source:

Avian Pox. Garden Wildlife Health

Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis. Darien Williams Blog

Salmonellosis. U tube


Holly Faulkner, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. New findings about House Finch eye disease and cleaning bacteria from feeders. Focus on Citizen Science. Volume 14. Winter Bird Highlights: From Project Feederwatch 2017- 18