I love watching birds. They are my favorite animals.
There is nothing more soothing than seeing how freely they move. I feed them every winter and spring with my bird feeders and in the summer and autumn with my planted shrubs, trees and wildflowers.
But last year I saw a sick bird.
My cat noticed him first. I placed my feeders so my cat can view them during the day. He is an indoor only kitty and likes to stalk them through the glass. He was in my bay window making the ‘churrp’ sound that excited cats make. His tail was all over.
The bird was right under the window. Poor thing was hunched over. It didn’t look good.
I went outside and it didn’t fly. That was my second clue it wasn’t feeling well. It was a sparrow and it sat there, fluffed up, eyes closed.
I usually let the circle of life do its thing, but I felt bad for this one so I left a small saucer of water and a handful of seed next to it. It died later that day.
Then I had to clean my feeders.
Clean Bird Feeders Prevent the Spread of Disease
Mourning dove populations, especially in the western United States, have been catching a protozoan called Trichomoniasis. This organism can live up to 5 days in food and hours in water making it easy to spread at the bird feeder.
Once in the dove population, it can make its way up the food chain. It has been found in Cooper’s Hawks where it kills nestlings.
Protozoans aren’t the only illness that can spread at bird feeders: Salmonellosis, Aspergillosis, and Avian Pox all are a danger also to all birds. So, while we are helping the birds by feeding them, we can also be hurting them if our feeders are not clean.
To protect the birds at your feeders, follow these guidelines:
Buy Easy to Disassemble Feeders. When you can take a feeder completely apart, it is easier to clean. This prevents old, contaminated food from contacting new feed and allows for disinfectants to be more effective.
Clean Feeders at Least Twice a Month. Cleaning feeders every two weeks lessens the chances that disease will spread. To clean a feeder, take it apart and use this time to check for any damage to the feeder that may hurt the birds. Next, get the right tools and use a brush to remove any food stuck in crevices. Once empty, make a 10% solution of bleach (1 cup of bleach to 9 cups of water) and submerge all feeder parts. Rinse it well and let everything dry. Once dry, reassemble and fill with seed.
Clean the Ground Under Feeders. Old food, hulls and moldy seed can collect at the base of bird feeding stations. When you clean the feeders, make it a habit to rake under the feeders and remove the waste. Or, if you have a movable feeder, rotate its location.
Spread it out. If you have a very active feeding station, consider moving some of the feeders to other locations in your backyard. This prevents birds from concentrating and lessens the chance for disease spread.
Watch for Sick Birds. Birds that are ill are less alert, less active and may cower on the ground. They also feed less and may not fly. If you see a sick bird makes sure to clean the feeders after it is gone. It may also be useful to contact a State Department to see if they want to necropsy the bird after death. If not sending for a necropsy, I dispose of dead birds by burying away from the feeders to prevent disease spread.
Don’t forget the water. Clean bird baths on the same schedule as your feeders. Also, dump the water daily, scrub with a brush and then replace the water.
Follow these suggestions and you will help keep the birds in your backyard healthy!
What do you do to help the birds in your backyard? Tell me in the comments.