A dirty bird feeder can harbor bacteria, mold, and other disease agents that can contaminate hungry birds. Infected birds can then spread the illness to other yards, feeding stations, and wild populations, creating epidemic conditions that could wipe out entire bird nesting colonies if left unchecked. Fortunately, it is easy to clean bird feeders to stop spreading diseases and invite more birds to enjoy safe, clean feeding stations.
Problems With Dirty Feeders
In addition to diseases that are spread by moldy seed and bird feces, dirty bird feeders pose other problems for birders, including:
- Foul odors that may attract insects, mice, rats, or other unwanted wildlife
- Accumulations of grease and debris that can damage lawns or flowerbeds
- Community rule violations, such as conflicting with HOA guidelines about outdoor appearances
- Excessive wear and tear on feeders, leading to damage and unsafe feeders
Cleaning a bird feeder, however, does not have to be a difficult task, and will help prevent these types of problems.
Tips for Clean Bird Feeders
Conscientious birders regularly clean their feeders to ensure that disease potential and other problems are minimized. Furthermore, clean feeders will attract more wild birds because the fresh, clean seed is more appealing and nutritious.
For the cleanest, healthiest, and most attractive feeders:
- Choose easy-to-clean feeders: Wooden feeders will absorb oils and other debris, making them much more difficult to clean over time. For easier bird feeder maintenance and healthier birds, choose feeders that are made from recycled plastic, metal, glazed ceramic, or glass.
- Clean regularly: All feeders should be thoroughly cleaned at least once per month. Busy, popular feeders may need to be cleaned much more frequently depending on how many birds use them and how much seed is consumed. Hummingbird feeders and oriole feeders should be cleaned each time the nectar is refilled.
- Use proper cleaning solutions: Feeders can be sanitized with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water. Commercial bird feeder cleaning solutions or a mild solution of unscented dish soap is also suitable to clean bird feeders.
- Soak feeders first: Soaking a dirty bird feeder before scrubbing will loosen debris and make it easier to clean the feeder thoroughly. Use a utility sink, washtub, or similar large basin to make sure the entire feeder can be submerged for a good soak.
- Clean all feeder parts: For the best sanitation and disease prevention, each feeder should be cleaned inside and out, including all feeding ports, perches, lids, platforms, and reservoirs. The feeder’s hooks, poles, and any other part where birds may perch or where feces may collect should also be cleaned.
- Use proper equipment: Use rubber gloves to avoid any contamination and use stiff brushes to ensure thorough cleaning. Nature stores, garden centers, and pet supply stores have specialized brushes for different sizes and shapes of feeders, though regular bottle brushes can also be effective. An old toothbrush is a great option for cleaning small parts, feeding ports, and tight corners. A stiff pipe cleaner is ideal for pulling through small feeding port holes to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned.
- Rinse thoroughly: After cleaning, the feeder and all cleaned parts should be rinsed for several seconds in clear, clean water to be sure all chemical residue is removed. There should be no stuck-on debris, lingering suds, or chemical odors after the feeder is rinsed.
- Dry completely: Before refilling the feeder, it should be completely dry. Any remaining moisture could lead to mold and mildew that can cause illness and rotten, unhealthy seed. Drying feeders in direct sunlight will further help to break down any lingering soap or chemicals.
Cleaning Around Bird Feeders
In addition to keeping bird feeders clean, it is essential to clean all nearby areas where birds perch and congregate while feeding. Eager and hungry birds can spill seed several feet away from feeders, and all feeding areas must be clean to keep bird populations healthy. To keep nearby areas clean:
- Remove old or damp seed and seed hulls from beneath all feeders
- Remove rotten fruit from trees where birds feed, including fallen fruit
- Refresh mulch or gravel beneath feeders to cover droppings
- Keep birdbaths, fences, and other perches clean
- Trim grass short underneath feeders so it will be easier to keep the area clean
Clean bird feeders and feeding areas will attract more birds and keep all birds healthier for birders to enjoy.
Berger, Michele, and December 06. 3 Ways to Keep Your Feeder Disease-Free for Birds. Audubon, 13 Apr. 2016
Maintaining a Hummingbird Feeder, Sea & Sage Audubon Society
Feliciano, Lisa M., et al. The Effectiveness of Bird Feeder Cleaning Methods with and without Debris. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, vol. 130, no. 1, 2018, pp. 313–320., doi:10.1676/16-161.1