Spring cleaning means feeder cleaning, too

Dirty Feeder Birdchick
Goldfinches on a dirty bird feeder. (Photo by Sharon Stiteler)

I know, that headline bums me out too. I don’t enjoy cleaning up after myself, so I don’t need another thing to clean added to my “to do” list. If, however, you enjoy feeding birds and get a feathered hoard in your backyard, you have a duty to keep it clean and help keep birds healthy. Just like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker before he was Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I’m not saying that you need to clean you feeders every day, but monitor them from your own personal point of view. Are there are days when you look at the feeder and think, “Ick, no way?” That’s usually after exotic starlings have stopped by and they have a knack for pooping and eating simultaneously.

It would be great if feeders could be dishwasher safe, but very few are. Most require good, old-fashioned elbow grease and in some cases, a tool to get access large enough to get your hands inside. There’s also debate on how often you should do it. Experts would love it if you did it once a week, but a more reasonable take is at least once a month. If that is too much, once a season. At the end of day, however, you need to clean it out when you look at the feeder and think, “Ew, gross.”

It’s best to clean feeders with a mild solution of bleach and water, say a cap full of bleach to a gallon of water. Make sure they are completely dry after cleaning before filling with bird seed again.

Times when you should clean feeders:

Big migratory flocks: Let’s say 50 pine siskins descend on your feeders and hang out there all day. Chances are good the birds are pooping as they eat. Chickadees are far more polite, they grab a seed and flit to a branch to eat and poop away from the feeders, but starlings and grackles leave a mess.

When moisture creeps in: When we get warm days with melting snow, you’ll see moisture in your tubes. It’s time to dump that seed in a dry part of your yard, clean out the inside with a mild solution of bleach and water or water and dish soap, and let it dry completely before putting fresh food in the feeder. It’s generally a good idea to dump out seed that has been a feeder for over a month just to ensure birds are getting the freshest seeds.

Clumping or white webbing: If you notice seed clumping together or webbing clumping it together, you could have fungus or meal moths in the seed. Either way, it’s going to clog the feeder and eventually it will reach the point where it’s harmful to birds. Remove the old seed out and let fresh seed in.

Muddy soil under the feeder: This happens when snow melts or after a good hard rain. Those seed shells, even the empty ones, need to be raked up composted. As seeds fall out of the feeder and get mixed in, ground feeding birds are at risk of eating contaminated seed.

There have been reports already this winter in the western United States of pine siskins showing up sick or dead around bird feeders, no doubt falling victim to dirty feeders and salmonella. If you do see sick birds at the feeder, stop putting food out for a week. I know, it’s hard but it is the best thing for your birds.

Categories: Sharon Stiteler

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