Keep bird feeders clean, keep birds safe

  • By Sharon Wootton
  • Friday, October 25, 2013 3:07pm
  • Life

Salmonellosis, conjunctivitis, aspergillosis, avian pox, trichomoniasis. Droopiness, diarrhea, severe lethargy, lesions, swollen livers, abscesses. Mouth and throat sores, fungus in lungs and air sacs causing bronchitis and pneumonia, wartlike growths on featherless surfaces (can impair vision, ability to stand or perch).

It’s the Halloween horror show coming to a bird feeder near you. Opening shot: Birds dropping like flies.

I usually preach about this topic in winter, but this year decided to start encouraging your commitment to clean feeders before the cold-weather brings more feathered friends to your restaurant.

Perhaps there should be an Avian Health Department.

Feeder birds see feeders as an easy source of food. The majority of visitors belong to flocks, so there’s bound to be space issues at feeders.

If you see them bumping and aggressively pecking at each other, they’re trying to create space. All of this creates stress, good neither for birds nor humans.

Birds aren’t aware of the dangers of eating seeds that are on top of feces, or that mold is dangerous to their health, or that they may be infected by parasites and bacteria by coming in contact with a sick bird in the communal feeding area.

It’s not too hard to pick out a sick bird among others of its kind. They are less active, feed less, aren’t as aggressive as the healthy birds, and sometimes appear disinterested in flight.

Birds can die quickly from the most common bird-feeder disease, salmonellosis. You don’t notice an individual bird’s death, but you might notice when the number of flocking birds fall off. By then, it’s too late.

If you see a sick bird at your feeder or a dead one nearby, take action. Take your feeders down, dispose of the seeds, and clean the feeders. Wait until they are perfectly dry before hanging back up.

Even more, don’t put them up for a week, let the flock disperse. Then put them up. Birds will find them.

This is about your commitment to minimizing the danger to the birds you love. Why invite them to the restaurant if bacteria and parasites are part of the menu?

It’s about discarding old seeds and hulls and changing the water. It’s about cleaning the feeder. Put that chore on the calendar. Program your electronic devise to remind you once a month.

Feeder cleaning is annoying and messy, but do it anyway. Mix 1 part household bleach with 9 parts water. Find a container that will allow you to put enough disinfectant to immerse the feed for a few minutes.

Use an old toothbrush and scrub everything. Rinse thoroughly and dry completely before setting it out.

Don’t forget the water container. Change it daily, wipe it clean and rinse it each time.

Having read this column, you can no longer plead ignorance when the Ghosts of Birds Past visit in your Halloween night dreams, displaying their warts and lesions and fungus, asking why you invited them to feed at contaminated feeders.

Don’t have a good answer, do you?

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or

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