I just came in from cleaning the bird baths and checking out the ground seed that the birds at the feeder sometimes toss when they feed. This gives the ground feeders their snacks and tasty meals. I plan to go out, when it warms up later today, to rake the seed husks, bird feces and wet seed into a container which will then be dumped in the food waste and recycling bin.

This will provide the ground feeders with a clean “plate” from which to feed. I will also bring my feeders in for cleaning. I do this at least weekly to help protect the birds from disease. The procedure I use is to clean them well with hot soapy water and then, as the experts suggest, douse them with a solution of one-part bleach to nine-parts water. Next, I rinse the feeders with warm water, dry them well and then fill them with fresh seed. My tray or platform feeder has a removable tray, so I wash and clean it daily. While this might seem like a lot of work, I think it is no different than the amount of care we would give to our household pets. They, too, require clean eating dishes, and water bowls.

Paying attention to having clean feeders is especially important when there is an irruption of a species such as our winter finches. Pine siskins are a good example of the one of the species that we are currently seeing in greater numbers than usual at our feeders due to this being an irruption year for them. Pine siskins, like other species of winter finches usually winter in the northern forests of Canada, but when food becomes scarce, they migrate south, driven by a need for nourishment, so we see them in larger numbers than we would if food were plentiful in Canada’s northern forests.

Large numbers of birds at our feeders usually mean more seed spill, bird feces and husks on the ground all of which tend to increase the chances of illness among our feathered friends. We can also help prevent disease by changing the areas where we throw seed on the ground for ground feeders such as sparrows and juncos. When filling feeders be sure to shake out the bottoms, especially those of tube feeders. An old rubber spatula is a great way to clean out the bottoms of tray or table-top type feeders. You can easily disinfect feeders by pouring boiling water over their surfaces and allowing them to dry before refilling.

Sanitation is needed to prevent diseases that can plague our feathered friends. Salmonellosis is one of the most common diseases spread through bird feces and moldy seed. Avian pox is another disease that affects birds especially house finches. It may result in lesions on their feet or eyes. There are other diseases that cause great harm to the birds, so it is worthwhile paying attention to keeping feeders and bird baths as clean as a whistle.

Our bird birds benefit greatly from winter feeding. Experts indicate that feeding the birds does not mean that they will lose their ability to forage for food in the wild. Supporting evidence for this finding is the fact that come spring when leaves and buds come out and insects hatch, feeder birds leave us to forage for wild food. One of the most important things to remember is to only put out as much seed as can be consumed in a day. It also helps to use some feeders that protect the seed from the weather. The key word in all of this is sanitation or keeping our feeders as clean as a whistle for the birds!

”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.

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