Whether they’re a means in which to feed your feathered friends during subzero temperatures or a simple way to remind you of warmer days ahead, there’s something innately charming about bird feeders. “There’s no question – I love having birds around my place, especially during the winter months,” says Michael Short, producer and host of Let’s Go Outdoors.
“Maybe it’s that the birds coming to the feeders provide hours of enjoyable entertainment, the thought that spring will eventually arrive, or that [there’s an opportunity] to capture some wonderful photos of wildlife, providing you’re willing to camp out and wait for that perfect moment.” Myriad benefits aside, feeders do require upkeep – particularly at this time of the year.
“As spring marches toward us, we need to be aware that our love of birds and feeders could have some dire effects on our feathered friends,” Short says. Since birds most often seen this time of year tend to be concentrated feeders – Red Poles, Boreal Chickadees and the House Finch among them – they usually show up in fairly large numbers, which could result in the potential of passing along diseases such as salmonella.
The typical sign to watch for when it comes to affected birds, Short says, are lethargic birds huddled around feeders or close to houses. “While this is by no means [indicates] an epidemic, [as homeowners], if we elect to set up feeders, we should bear some responsibility to ensure the health of the birds [visiting them].” With that in mind, he suggests the following:
- Avoid flat bottom (platform) feeders as it doesn’t take long for large numbers of birds to gather in the feeder and defecate in and around its edges. It’s here that trouble can start since feces left in and around these areas can be easily spread onto the seeds and, eventually, will be consumed by birds.
- If removing your feeder isn’t an option, try washing all surfaces with a mild to moderate solution of bleach and water as this will kill bacteria that could harm birds. Be sure to wash and rinse the feeder after the initial bleach application, and repeat this process every two weeks.
- For the easiest fix, consider using feeders that can be hung from a pole or branch. These are great options because they automatically limit the number of birds gathering for food at any one time.
Short says to keep in mind that the salmonella issue doesn’t arise as often in late-spring, summer and fall months, perhaps because there are plentiful supplies of natural food available. Because of this, should you decide to keep your flat bottom feeder, cleaning it every four-to-six weeks is ideal.
And ultimately, he says to enjoy your feeder. “While we need to act responsibly when putting feed out for birds, feeders can provide us with a unique window to nature, and you don’t have to put on a pair of hiking boots to get the view!”