As a steward of nature, it’s important to focus on keeping feeders clean for good bird health. Harmful diseases can be spread at bird feeders when they are not cleaned properly or frequently enough. Rarely, these diseases may even be transmitted to humans. Fortunately, if you care for your bird feeders properly with regular cleaning and maintenance, you’ll be doing your part to keep yourself, your family, and wild birds safe.
Tips to Avoid Bacteria Transmission at Your Bird Feeders
1. Clean Your Feeders Regularly and Thoroughly
In most cases, germs at bird feeders only affect the birds that visit the feeder. But when you invite birds to dine in your backyard, it becomes your responsibility to provide a clean bird feeder—just as a restaurant provides clean dishes to eat from. Learn how to clean your bird feeder and you will be helping to keep wild birds safe and happy.
How to Clean Your Bird Feeder:
- Bird feeders should be cleaned once to twice a month, and birdbaths should be emptied and cleaned daily. Always use disposable gloves so you are not exposed to potential illnesses. Never wash your bird feeder in your kitchen sink, and do not use any brushes or tools that you will also use for washing dishes.
- Scrape any residue off the bird feeder. Use dish soap on any remaining residue. If you notice sick birds at your feeder, take all your feeders down for a week and empty your bird baths.
- To disinfect the feeder, mix nine parts water with one part bleach. Scrub the feeder with a brush, then let it soak for 10 minutes. Rinse and then air dry.
- Do not reuse seed or nectar; it could be contaminated.
- If you notice sick birds at your feeder, take all your feeders down for a week and empty your bird baths.
- PRO TIP: To make this process easier, switch out feeders as you clean them so there is always a backup feeder(s) while the others are being cleaned.
2. Wash Your Hands
You may also be at risk if you touch your mouth with unwashed hands after touching wild birds, bird feeders, or bird baths. Washing your hands regularly is always a good idea, but especially when handling items that have come in contact with wild animals.
3. Do Not Hand-Feed or Touch Wild Birds
Feeding wild birds by hand can be dangerous for birds and may also unnecessarily expose you to germs. Feeding birds from a bird feeder is always the safest option—if you keep the feeder clean.
If You Find a Bird that Is Sick or Injured:
- Call your local wildlife rehabilitator to ensure they have the resources to care for a sick or injured bird.
- Line a covered, ventilated box with a towel and place the bird inside. Handle the bird as little as possible, and wear disposable gloves when you do (you do not need to worry about the bird smelling like humans, but gloves will keep you from coming into contact with open wounds, blood, or illnesses). Keep the box in a dark, quiet spot indoors away from pets. Follow these steps if you are unable to immediately transport the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator:
- If the bird is a baby that is not fully feathered, you may provide supplemental heat. Place the box on top of a hot water bottle or a heating pad on a low to medium setting. Frequently check on the bird to make sure it is not overheating (keep in mind that birds’ body temperature is higher than humans’).
- Avoid giving the bird food or water. Since birds’ anatomy is so small, it is easy to improperly feed the bird. This can result in food getting trapped in their lungs. When placed in a dark box, the bird’s metabolism will actually slow down.
4. Add Additional Feeders to Reduce Over-congregation at a Single Feeder
The coronavirus pandemic has made it common knowledge that crowded spaces make for easier disease transmission. By adding additional bird feeders to your yard, you can help birds spread out. Doing so provides for greater comfort for birds while they eat, and fewer opportunities for spreading germs.
5. Keep Your Pets Away from Wild Birds
You probably knew that pets can be a danger to birds in the form of predation. What you may not have considered is that they can also be a danger to themselves when interacting with birds and bird feeders. Cats and dogs may be found licking bird feeders, or even running around with a deceased bird in their mouths. The germs they pick up can be transmitted to you. The simplest solution to this problem is to keep cats indoors and keep bird feeders high enough from the ground that dogs cannot reach them.
6. Use an Easy-to-Clean Bird Feeder
Several bird feeders from More Birds and Droll Yankees are designed to be incredibly easy to clean, making it less of a chore to care for birds properly: