Safe Bird Feeding
|Gila Woodpecker at feeder, by George Jameson/NAS
Bird feeding is a popular endeavor enjoyed by millions of people and birds. But birds can be at risk at feeding stations – from predators and bird diseases. Proper precautions are necessary for safe bird feeding.
Stock Fresh Seed
In wet weather, birdseed can quickly become saturated and develop mold. Maintain fresh, dry seed in the feeder and the container in which the supply is kept.
Sweep it Clean
Keeping the ground at the base of a feeder free of discarded hulls and droppings will lessen damage to turf and prevent transmission of disease (such as salmonella). In winter, scraping off a few inches of snow will suffice. For busier stations, seed trays may be used to catch jettisoned hulls and seed. Feeders can also be relocated on occasion to prevent build-up at the base.
Take a Break
Several diseases are contagious between birds. If diseased birds (those with malformed bills, bulbous growths on feet or face, or swollen, reddish, or watery eyes) are frequently visiting your feeders, take down the feeder, discard seed and clean the feeder with bleach solution (nine parts water to one part bleach). Wait a week or more before reactivating the feeding station. This will cause the temporary dispersion of feeder birds and discourage revisiting by diseased birds. The same precautions should be taken if several dead birds with no sign of predator injury are found around the feeder.
Native trees and shrubs of different densities and heights give birds places into which they can retreat and feel safe near the feeders. In winter, evergreens, brush piles or even discarded Christmas trees offer crucial winter protection from predators and weather. Plants should be close enough for safe approaches and quick escape but far enough to allow for a wide visual field for feeding birds (10-12 feet from feeders).
Keep Feeders Clean
It's important to clean your feeders to remove bacteria and mold spores, even in winter. A monthly cleaning with a nine-to-one water-bleach solution will deter bacteria in plastic, ceramic, and metal feeders. A dilute vinegar solution (three-to- one) or non-fragranced biodegradable soap should be used on wood to minimize fading.
A few inches of clean water in a birdbath or other rough-textured container will be a welcome addition to your feeding area. Consider a dripping system for a constant source of clean water and a birdbath heater to prevent freezing in the winter. Never use additives to keep water clean or prevent freezing. Place the birdbath in a central location allowing for the vulnerable bathers and drinkers to have a full view of their surroundings. Change water and clean birdbath every 2-3 days to prevent mosquitoes from breeding as well as the buildup of algae.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Project FeederWatch
Diseased Birds at Your Feeder
Audubon Magazine Jan-Feb 2000: The Winter Banquet – Is Backyard Bird Feeding Helping or Hurting? By Stephen W. Kress
Audubon At Home – Keeping Wildlife Safe
Window Collisions – proper feeder placement and ways to reduce reflectivity of glass