Help Feeder Birds Stay Healthy

Purple-FinchesBy Peter Gadd and Pam Watters

Awhile ago we had a young male Purple Finch at one of our feeders. In fact it was a feeder attached to our kitchen window which allowed us to see it quite up close. It was obvious it was not well. It remained perched on the edge of the feeder for quite some time, it was very lethargic, there was something not quite right about its eyes and its feathers were fluffed up although it was not particularly cold outside. Referring to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, this bird showed all the signs of Salmonellosis which is a fatal illness, one possibly caused in this case, by feeding at a dirty bird feeder!

The Salmonella bacteria can be found in and around feeders, being spread by fecal contamination from other birds. It is important then to regularly clean bird feeders and bird baths, particularly during times of warm wet weather. Bird seed too can become wet and mouldy so care is needed to keep it fresh.

A solution of bleach is recommended with a ratio of nine parts water to one part bleach. Unscented dish detergent is also effective. The feeder should be disassembled first as much as possible. Ease of cleaning could be a factor in determining which feeder to purchase. The water should be hot, the feeder well rinsed then thoroughly dried. Using properly sized and shaped bottle brushes would make the task more effective and using an old tooth brush for small parts is a good idea. It is recommended too that the ground under the feeder should be cleaned up and the feeder poles and hooks cleaned also.

Similarly of course Hummingbird feeders need regular attention. The sugar solution should be changed every three to five days and the feeder washed carefully as described above. In this case however using soap or detergent is not recommended. (On a side note, hummingbird feeders can be left out until mid-October or so just in case a late migrating hummingbird comes through. You don’t need to worry that this will cause a hummingbird to delay its migration.)

A little extra care and attention can go a long way to making sure that the good intentions for the support of wildlife doesn’t do more harm than good!

For more about feeding birds in your backyards safely or to find out how to get involved with backyard bird feeding visit Project Feeder Watch online at

In the photo above are two apparently healthy male Purple Finches enjoying some black oil sunflower seeds, by far and away a bird favourite.

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