Keep feeders clean to avoid sickening birds

EDITOR’S NOTE: There have been multiple articles in Washington, Oregon and California (more recently an article on OPB) calling for removing bird seed feeders due to spreading salmonella and other diseases, but removing food sources during the Winter is also cause for concern. It’s all about cleanliness. If you see a sick or dead bird near your feeders, clean thoroughly with a bleach solution and stop feeding for a period of time. Otherwise, be sure to clean your feeders regularly to remove any residual bird poop, and keep an eye on the birds around your feeders.

SALEM, Ore.—ODFW and wildlife rehabilitators are seeing an increase in reports of sick birds at feeders.
Calls to ODFW from Oregon bird lovers seeing dead birds in their yard and around their feeder typically increase with colder weather. When the weather turns cold, the energy demands on birds and other wildlife increase dramatically so a high energy seed meal at a bird feeder will bring in birds and congregate them, increasing the chance of disease transmission.

Salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria along with viruses, parasites and fungal diseases can be passed by congregating birds at feeders that don’t get cleaned regularly.

Pine siskins, nuthatches, chickadees and other seed-eating backyard birds are some of the most common species affected by these diseases. The birds get infected at the feeders and pass the infection on when they come into contact with feeder surfaces, perches or visit multiple feeders.

“If you enjoy seeing birds and feeding them in winter, please provide a clean and healthy environment for them,” said Dr. Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian. “When you feed birds, be sure to start with clean feeders and to disinfect feeders periodically.”

Avoid problems at bird feeders by:
– Take down feeders and stop feeding for several weeks to a month if there are bird deaths at your feeder.
– Providing fresh seed purchased recently.
– Using feeders made from non-porous material like plastic, ceramic, and metal. These are less likely than wood to harbor bacteria and other diseases.
– Cleaning feeders, water containers and bird baths monthly by rinsing with soapy water and then dunking the feeder in a solution of one third cup of chlorine bleach per one gallon of water.
– Cleaning up old seed hulls and waste below the feeders by raking, shoveling, or sweeping material and discarding in the trash.
– Spreading your feeding over several areas or feeders as not to congregate birds in one place.
– Cleaning feeders more often (weekly) if you have large numbers of birds at your feeders.
– Visiting with your neighbors who also feed birds and sharing this information.

Contacting ODFW (866-968-2600/ email or your local Wildlife Rehabilitator if you see sick birds – on the North Oregon Coast, Wildlife Center of the North Coast –, (503) 338-0331,