We know it’s a chore to clean your bird feeders. Feeding and attracting birds is a source of joy for gardeners. But if we want to feed them we also want to keep them healthy!

Natural food supplies for birds decline drastically from the first frost until spring vegetation growth so feeding is important. One important Fall task in my garden is to erect and fill the bird feeders.

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

Consider these reasons to clean your birdfeeders

  • 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.

What is the best way to clean your bird feeders?

  • New feeders ought to be rinsed in warm water and dried before filling with birdseed 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 the birdbath or water container, remove all debris and scrub the 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?

Remove 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 Credits: Avian Pox – Garden Wildlife Health,  Mycoplasmal Conjunctivitis –  Darien Williams Blog, Salmonellosis. U tube

Reference: 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