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Some of our favorite bird species commonly visit bird feeders. These feeding stations may be an important factor in their well-being during some segments of their life cycle. However, poorly maintained feeding stations may contribute to the occurrence of infectious disease and mortality. In recent years there have been unprecedented reports of songbird mortality events. The National Wildlife Health Center of the U.S. Geological Survey conducts research on diseases in wildlife, their causes, and methods of preventing or reducing disease outbreaks.
By taking the following eight relatively easy steps, you can prevent or minimize problems at your feeders.
1. Give them space - Avoid crowding by providing ample feeder space. Lots of birds using a single feeder looks wonderful, but crowding is a key factor in spreading disease. If birds have to jostle each other to reach the food, they are crowded. This crowding also creates stress, which may make birds more vulnerable to disease.
2. Clean up waste - Keep the feeder area clean of waste food and droppings. A broom and shovel work well, but a vacuum such as you might use in your garage or workshop will help even more.
3. Make feeders safe - Provide safe feeders without sharp points or edges. Even small scratches and cuts will allow bacteria and viruses to infect otherwise healthy birds.
4. Keep feeders clean - Clean and disinfect feeders regularly. Use one part liquid chlorine household bleach in nine parts of tepid water (a 10% solution) to disinfect. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, cleaned feeder completely for two to three minutes. Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, but weekly cleaning may be needed if you notice sick birds at your feeders.
5. Use good food - Discard food that smells musty, is wet, looks moldy or has fungus growing on it. Disinfect any storage container that holds spoiled food as well as the scoop used to fill feeders.
6. Prevent contamination - Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.
7. Act early - Don’t wait to act until you see sick or dead birds. With good prevention, you’ll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders.
8. Spread the word - Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds normally move among feeders and can spread diseases as they go. The safest bird feeders will be those in communities where neighbors cooperate with equal concern for the health of the birds.