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Dear Dr. Wildlife:
In the last several months I've seen a number of birds literally drop dead at my bird feeder. Am I doing something wrong?
- Bird Lover
Dear Bird Lover:
Odds are it's not what you're doing but what you aren't doing that's contributing to the bird deaths at your feeder.
While feeders can be a great way to interact with wildlife, they can also be terribly effective at spreading disease among wild birds. All it takes is for one sick bird to show up at your feeder and the next thing you know the others are sick too.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
With a little effort on your part, you can prevent or at least minimize disease problems at your feeder. The following eight-step program is from Colorado State University's pamphlet, "Coping With Diseases at Bird Feeders" (originally published by USFWS):
Give them space
Crowding is a key factor in spreading disease. If birds have to jostle each other to reach the food, they're crowded-and crowding creates stress, which makes birds more vulnerable to disease. To avoid crowding, provide ample feeder space or increase the number of feeders in your yard.
Clean up wastes
Keep the feeder area clean of leftover food and droppings. A broom or a shovel are good tools for this kind of work, but a workshop vacuum is even better.
Make feeders safe
Provide safe feeders without sharp points or edges. Even small scratches and cuts will allow bacteria and viruses to enter otherwise healthy birds.
Keep feeders clean
Clean and disinfect feeders regularly. Use one part household bleach to nine parts tepid water to disinfect feeders. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, cleaned feeder completely for two to three minutes. Allow to air dry. Do this once or twice a month, but if you notice sick birds at your feeder, bump it up to once a week.
Use fresh food
Discard any food that smells musty, is wet, looks moldy, or has fungus growing on it. Disinfect any storage container that holds spoiled food and the scoop used to fill feeders from it.
Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.
Don't wait until you see sick or dead birds to act. With good prevention you'll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders.
Spread the word
Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds normally move among feeders and can spread diseases as they go. The safest birdfeeders will be those in communities where neighbors cooperate with equal concern for the birds.