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Clean bird feeders regularly to keep songbirds healthy



March 12 , 2008


Michelle Dennehy (503) 947-6022
Fax: (503) 947-6009

SALEM, ORE. –ODFW wildlife health experts remind Oregonians that to keep songbirds healthy, bird feeders should be cleaned regularly.

Each year in Oregon, songbirds contract deadly bacteria and viruses like salmonellosis, E. coli and avian pox from improperly maintained bird feeders. “Regularly cleaning feeders and feeding areas will keep songbirds healthy,” explained Dr. Colin Gillin, ODFW wildlife veterinarian. “Wear rubber gloves when handling bird feeders or nest boxes and wash your hands afterwards to keep yourself healthy, too.”

Gillin also recommended that unoccupied nesting boxes be cleaned now, as nesting season begins this month. “Never disturb a nest box once songbirds begin to nest,” he added.

Here is how to keep your birdfeeder and other equipment clean:

Replace food in birdfeeders at least weekly and water in bird baths every three days.

Clean bird feeders every two weeks (or more often if you notice seeds are moldy). Use liquid detergent and water to remove dirt and debris from feeders and other equipment. For maximum protection, also soak feeders, baths and nest boxes in a 10-parts water to one-part household bleach solution for several minutes (this contact time with disinfectant is import). Rinse and allow to dry before adding new food or water.

Limit the amount of food you provide in feeders to what the birds can eat in a day or two to reduce the amount of organic matter that could harbor diseases.

Provide fresh, dry seed that hasn’t molded. (A fungal disease called aspergillosis grows on damp feed and can create lung infections if inhaled by birds.)

Clean up old food and spent seed hulls around feeders, a practice that should also keep unwanted pests like rats and raccoons away from feeders. Dispose of old seed in the garbage, not in the compost pile.

The most common songbirds to use feeders in Oregon are juncos, finches, sparrows, Pine Siskins, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, jays and flickers. Songbirds tend to use feeders most heavily during the winter but as spring approaches, artificial feeding should be slowly reduced. Birds will readily feed on natural sources like seeds and insects when they are available in the spring and through fall.

Human infection or disease from wild birds is rare, especially if basic precautions like wearing rubber gloves are taken. However, pets can become infected, especially if they are exposed to fecal matter below the feeders. Outdoor cats are at risk if they catch and eat sick birds around feeders.

Signs of disease in birds include eyes that are puffy or half-closed and lethargy or other unusual behavior. If you see these signs or dead birds at your feeder, take the following steps to prevent additional disease problems and safely dispose of dead birds:

Discontinue feeding for 30 days, which will force birds to leave. Thoroughly clean your feeder before starting to feed again. Visit this link to find out when to report dead birds to ODFW.

Concentrating birds increases the risk for disease. Disperse birds by spreading small amounts of seed over a large area in the sun, varying the location of seeds or using several feeders instead of one.

To dispose of dead birds, wear disposable rubber gloves or use an inverted plastic bag on your hand. Double bag the bird in plastic bags and place in a sealed garbage can or other safe container where it cannot be disturbed by other animals.

Thoroughly wash your hands after handling a dead bird and before eating, drinking, smoking or touching your face.

If you continue to have disease problems, replace wooden bird feeders with plastic or metal. The porous nature of wood creates an environment that easily harbors bacteria and cannot be sanitized as effectively.



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