Buy a plastic tube, fill it with cheap seeds, and leave it all year.
At least that’s how a lot of people treat their feeders and, we need to get real here, that needs to stop. You need to clean your bird feeders out, ideally once a week. Two weeks is probably what most people can manage and once a month is the absolute bare minimum, which may not be enough.
This post will be a little less fun than some of the others because this topic is extremely serious and affects birds and birders everywhere.
As a disclaimer, I am not a bird scientist nor am I any kind of authority on the topic outside of just being a passionate backyard bird lover. I will be citing the Cornell Lab of Orinthology extensively in this post and I highly recommend reading what they have to say as well.
First, let’s talk about some consequences of not cleaning out your bird feeders. If you don’t clean your feeders out, you’re risking the spread of disease. In fact, there’s outbreak so bad in the American Southeast that experts are recommending people take down their feeders for a while so the birds will disperse. Here is a local news article from Virginia and one from North Carolina.
What happens when you don’t clean your feeders is that mold and bacteria build up. When this happens, birds can get sick and it can sometimes kill them. Cornell Lab of Orinthology notes three common diseases: Avian Pox, House Finch Eye Disease, and Salmonellosis. These can spread by bird-to-bird contact or, more commonly, by ingesting contaminated food or water. A huge danger with feeders is that a large number of birds may visit your feeders. Say a sick bird poops in your bird bath. Then fifteen birds drink that water. Now you have sixteen birds that are either infected themselves or are carriers. Those birds will then go off to other food or water sources and contaminate those as well. If it starts spreading, it will do so fast.
We owe it to our birds to help keep them healthy. It’s a matter of respect.
“Well, okay, Mr. Great Plains Bird Man, you got me. How do I clean out my bird feeders?”
The best method is to use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Soak your feeders in that solution for a while and then scrub. You can use a mild dish soap to make the scrubbing easier. I’d suggest wearing rubber gloves and using a stiff brush. In addition, metal pipe cleaners to clear small holes may be necessary depending on the type of feeder you have.
You need to ensure you get rid of all debris and gunk. Bleach is also the only surefire way to properly disinfect.
Also, take a look at the image at the top of this post. Do you see that white stuff at the bottom? That’s a product called Feeder Fresh, which I highly recommend. It’s made from sand, so it isn’t harmful for the birds. Feeder Fresh absorbs moisture and helps prevent mold and other gunk from building up in your feeders.
As I said, once a week is ideal. Once every two weeks is good enough. Once a month is bare minimum.
Bird baths, in my opinion, require much more regular cleaning. At least change out the water every day or so and at least wipe off any feces that might have been left behind. I usually find a lot more poop in the bird bath water than in their food.
But sometimes it might be too late.
If you happen to a spot a bird with obviously swollen, red, or irritated eyes, take down your feeders for at least two weeks. The birds will be fine; birds know how to find food. They appreciate us, but they don’t really need us. Same goes if you start seeing lethargic birds that don’t seem to care if you approach. During those two weeks, just appreciate saving money on feed and make sure you get your feeders spotless.
Like I said before, the birds don’t need us. They know how to find food. When we don’t clean our feeders, we’re only causing them harm.
I apologize for the more down post, but this needs to be said and it needs to be said loudly. If there’s one post of mine to share, it’s this one. Please, please, please… clean your feeders, protect the birds.