Keep bird feeders clean: Dirty feeders can spread disease to backyard birds


ODFW is urging people to keep their bird feeders clean and free of bacteria so wild birds stay healthy this winter.

Calls to ODFW from Oregon bird lovers seeing dead birds in their yard and around their feeders are increasing with colder weather. Testing by the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory identified the cause of one recent bird die-off at a feeder in Corvallis as a bacterial infection from salmonella.

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. 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.

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.

“We ask those Oregonians who enjoy seeing birds and feeding them in winter to provide a clean and healthy environment for their feathered visitors,” said Dr. Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian. “When you feed birds, be sure to start with clean feeders and to disinfect feeders periodically. This way, Oregon’s wildlife will stay healthy and both birds and bird watchers will benefit.”

Avoid problems at bird feeders by:

  • 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 [email protected]) or your local Wildlife Rehabilitator if you see sick birds.
  • Discontinuing feeding for several weeks to a month if there are bird deaths at your feeder.

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