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Why We Need to Clean Bird Feeders

Cleaning Bird Feeders Is Important

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Dirty Bird Feeder

Dirty feeders can spread diseases.

David Baron

Cleaning birdfeeders is essential for many reasons, and understanding why it is necessary to clean bird feeders can help both novice and experienced backyard birders be committed to providing the best backyard buffet possible.

Why Bird Feeders Must Be Cleaned

The most obvious reason to clean bird feeders is to keep your backyard flock healthy. Dirty feeders can harbor mold and bacteria from spoiled seed, feces or diseased birds that can easily be spread to other birds in the communal feeding area. Cleaning bird feeders is an easy way to avoid spreading diseases among birds, but there are many other reasons to keep feeders clean as well.

  • Smell: Rancid birdseed can generate a powerful stink, and while birds have poor senses of smell and will not be bothered, strong odors can attract other unwanted wildlife such as mice, rats, raccoons, insects and bears. In addition to being hazardous to humans, other animals can carry different diseases and will destroy feeders while attempting to reach the seed they smell.

  • Damage: Spoiled seed can cause wood decay that will eventually destroy a feeder, and it can be impossible to clean a very dirty bird feeder without causing additional damage to remove encrusted seed and oil. Caked seed can also clog feeding ports, mesh, hinges and other parts of a feeder, causing it to crack, warp or break if it is not cleaned regularly.

  • Capacity: As seed gets caked onto a feeder's base or around feeding ports, the spoiled, inedible seed will gradually fill up more and more space, reducing the feeder's overall capacity and requiring more frequent refills. Lower capacity leads to hungry birds, and a backyard flock's size will diminish as the competition for food increases.

  • Aesthetics: A dirty feeder is an unsightly mess in what may otherwise be an attractive backyard or garden. Cleaning the feeder brightens any clear walls or partitions, keeps paint or color bright and gives the feeder a newer, fresher look that will be more enjoyable to see.

How Often to Clean Feeders

How often a feeder should be cleaned depends on many factors, including…

  • Food: Bird foods with a high oil content, such as suet or sunflower hearts, will cause stains and discoloration on feeders much more quickly than foods such as peanuts or millet. Oily foods also get sticky and cake together much more quickly, requiring more frequent cleaning.

  • Flock Size: The more birds you are feeding, the more frequently you will need to clean your feeders. Larger flocks generate more feces and have more opportunities to share diseases and bacteria, and more frequent cleanings can keep the birds healthier.

  • Climate: Cold, dry weather will preserve birdseed longer and keep feeders cleaner, while warm, wet climates facilitate decay and spoiling. During the summer months, feeders should be cleaned at least every 1-2 weeks, but during the winter months cleanings every 4-6 weeks may be sufficient.

Regardless of the conditions of your bird feeders, a quick "dry cleaning" is useful every time the feeders are refilled: scrape out any seed clumps, dump out dried feces and shake out any excess debris before refilling the feeder. Wet cleanings or washings in appropriate disinfectants can be less frequent if you make sure your feeders are in good condition with every refill.

Feeders should be thoroughly cleaned immediately if you find dead birds nearby or if you see sick birds visiting your bird feeders. News reports about bird illness outbreaks can also be a good clue that it is time to give your feeders a good scrubbing to protect your backyard birds.

By understanding the need for clean bird feeders, backyard birders can better appreciate the necessity of regular cleanings to help keep their backyard flock healthy and happy, protecting the feeders and ensuring an enjoyable experience with any backyard buffet.

Photo – Dirty Bird Feeder © David Baron

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