Keep Backyard Birds Safe By Preventing Bird Feeder Disease

December 16, 2021 // 17 minutes read

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Bird Feeder Disease

Birds are always known for their beautiful color and sweet voices. But what most people seem to forget is that birds are also susceptible to diseases, and sadly, the more they spend time in bird feeders, the more vulnerable they are.  

Bird feeder disease can easily spread because it’s where a lot of birds gather – sick or not. Sadly, we can do nothing to prevent them from getting sick, but we can certainly do something to prevent the spread. This can be as simple as: 

  • Spreading out bird feeders
  • Cleaning up wastes and bird feeders
  • Using quality food
  • Rotating bird feeder placement
  • Practicing Good Hygiene

In this article, I’ll share with you 13 ways that you can prevent the spread of diseases in bird feeders. We’ll also tackle topics on: 

  • Common bird diseases
  • How to spot sick birds
  • Treating sick birds
  • What to do when you find dead birds

So, if these are topics you’re interested in, let’s dive into the article… 

13 Ways To Prevent Bird Feeder Disease

1. Give Birds Some Space

The first and most basic thing you can do is to give birds some space. 

One reason why diseases spread easily is that birds easily get in contact with each other. The bird feeders are usually very crowded, making it easier for the disease to spread from an infected bird to a healthy bird. 

This is the reason why it’s highly recommended to have different feeders set up in your backyard instead of just one. This way, you get to minimize the number of birds that use one feeder, thereby lessening the chance of creating an environment that is prone to bird feeder disease. 

However, having many bird feeders is not enough. 

You should also make sure that there’s ample space between each bird feeder. It’s recommended to have at least 10 feet of space between each feeder, but if you have a smaller backyard, then feel free to adjust as long as you make sure to maintain a distance in between. 

2. Clean Up Waste

Next, you need to make sure to clean up any waste. 

Most bird feeder disease is spread through bird droppings and sometimes food waste. This is because even if infected birds are already not eating in the bird feeders to get in contact with healthy birds, the things they leave behind are still contaminated. 

Healthy birds might pick up these contaminated bird seeds or get close to infected bird droppings, resulting in them getting sick.

So, make sure to follow through with any food waste and bird droppings. Grab a broom and make sure that everything is clean. 

You can start by tidying up the ground below the bird feeders. Make sure that there are no bird seeds that healthy birds might eat. You can use a seed tray to catch any possible food or waste droppings and make it easier for you to clean the area. 

I would also recommend checking nest boxes around your yard, if you have one, and ensuring that the area around those nests is clean. Grab a broom and sweep up any wastes. 

To ensure that you pick up any possible contaminated waste, using a vacuum will also be completely fine. 

3. Make Feeders Safe

Birds can also get infected by bacteria through wounds or scratches. That’s why other than cleaning the surrounding areas, you also need to make sure that the bird feeders are safe. 

When choosing a bird feeder, it’s highly recommended to choose one that doesn’t have any sharp edges or spots that have jagged parts that could potentially harm a bird. Run your finger around the feeding ports when you buy a new bird feeder to make sure it is smooth.

I have had a few bird feeders where the feeding ports were a little rough around the edges and I tool sandpaper (or a file) and smoothed the ports to eliminate any snags.

4. Keep Bird Feeders Clean

Next, aside from ensuring that the bird feeders are safe, you should also ensure that they are kept clean to help lessen the chances of bird feeder disease. This will help you remove any molds or bacteria that may make your birds ill. 

So how do you clean a bird feeder? 

It’s highly recommended that you clean your bird feeders at least once a month. However, in cases when:

  1. There are lots of birds visiting
  2. It’s the rainy or winter season
  3. There are reports of a disease outbreak

Then, you might need to clean at least once every two weeks or once a week. 

Make sure that you’re using proper cleaning solutions so that you won’t damage your bird feeder. 

Here’s what I recommend: Simply mix one part bleach with nine parts hot water to use as a sanitizer. Or you can also buy a commercialized cleaner, but just make sure that it’s the mild or gentle one. 

To start cleaning your bird feeder, you need to soak it first in water to loosen all debris and dirt. Then, if possible, take your bird feeder apart so you can clean it easily. 

Then using some gloves or brushes, clean all parts of the bird feeder carefully. This includes the perches, ports, lids, and even the small corners. Rinse it thoroughly after and let it dry by putting it out under the sun. 

Ensure that the bird feeder is not wet or moist on the inside before putting any bird seeds in. This way, you get to prevent mold build-up that can cause the food to spoil quickly and make birds sick. 

5. Use Good Food

Speaking of spoiled seeds, make sure that you’re always giving birds good food. This means you should never serve spoiled bird seeds to birds as it will make them sick. 

Good Food = Less Bird Feeder Disease

Check out our article that highlights some of the best bird seed options available today. Click the button below to read this article:

How to know if the food is spoiled? Here are some ways: 

  • Clump formation: If your bird seeds start forming into clumps, that’s already an indication that your bird food got wet. If the clumps can be taken apart easily, then you have nothing to worry about. However, if you’re having a hard time breaking that down, then that’s spoiled and must be removed from your feeder or storage. 
  • Insects: Another way to tell if the food is spoiled is if insects start swarming in. So, you should make sure to always inspect your bird feeder if there are any insects. One or two bugs should be fine, but if you have a really large swarm inside your bird feeder, then that’s it’s time to change the bird seeds inside. 
  • Mold and mildew: When seeds are moldy, that’s already a great indication that the seeds are spoiled. It will most likely smell bad, feel slimy, and come with molds. 
  • Smell: Naturally, spoiled bird seeds smell bad, especially seeds containing high oil content. 
  • Aging: Spoiled bird seeds look dull, dusty, or dried. Aged seeds most likely lose their nutritional value, which is not very healthy for birds. 

To prevent all these from happening, it’s essential that you only buy high-quality seeds. After that, observe each seed and remove any bad seeds from that batch. 

After that, make sure that you store the seeds properly. Container storage should be cool and dry so that seeds last longer. 

6. Feed Birds in Moderation

The next thing you can do is to feed birds in moderation. 

What do I mean by this? 

If possible, don’t use large bird feeders to place bird seeds that can last for a month. Although this seems convenient, it’s very easy for seeds to be contaminated. 

Having this large batch of seeds last for a month means you’ll have fewer opportunities to change the seeds and clean up the bird feeders. On top of that, once this large batch of seeds gets spoiled, you’ll be wasting a lot of money because you’ll have to throw everything away. 

So, what do you do? 

Use smaller bird feeders instead of larger ones. Fill up the bird feeders with just enough seeds that can last for a day.

It will be helpful to note how many birds visit your backyard and observe how much they consume. This will help ensure that only very few seeds will be left in the bird feeder. 

Check the bird seeds before refilling them to ensure that there are no bad seeds left that might contaminate the new good seeds you’ll put in your bird seeds.  

7. Use The Right Bird Feeders

Another thing you can do to make sure that the bird seeds won’t easily spoil is by using the correct type of bird feeder. 

Again, smaller bird feeders are the best choice so that bird seeds won’t stay there for too long, making them less prone to contamination, thereby helping to reduce bird feeder disease. 

Open feeders like the platform feeder are prone to contamination; these are feeders that I prefer to not use unless I am filling them with very small amounts of seed. And, when i do use these style bird feeders, I clean them at a higher frequency

Any bird can get to it and even step on each of the bird seeds. And because the seeds are exposed to the open, they can also be easily exposed to bird droppings and other forms of contamination. 

8. Rotation of Feeding Sites

Next, you should rotate the feeding sites. 

This will ensure that food waste and bird droppings won’t accumulate in one area. It will also allow you to make sure that every part of your yard is clean.

9. Prevent Contamination

You should also make sure to minimize contamination to help prevent bird feeder disease. 

Birds don’t just get sick because they come in contact with infected birds. They can also get sick because of other animals that get to their feeders or food, like rats. Therefore, it’s also crucial that you prevent rats from getting closer to your bird feeders and your bird storage. 

Here are some things you should do to keep rats away from bird feeders: 

  • Protect your bird feeders above and below. Place a squirrel baffle below your bird feeder and a weather guard above. These two will serve as a shield against rats that attempt to climb up your bird feeder pole or climb down from the nearest tree. 
  • Consider bird feeder placement. Next, you should make sure that you place your bird feeder away from any platform where rats can jump and get to the feeder. This includes walls, fences, and trees. On top of that, make sure that your bird feeders are at least 4 feet above the ground. 
  • Use the proper containers. As much as possible, you should use metal or hard plastic containers so rats would find a harder time chewing through them. 
  • Store containers properly. Place containers inside your home, so rats don’t reach them. Also, make sure that the storage area is dry. 

In other words, make sure that nothing else gets near your bird feeder or birdseed stash. 

10. Practice Good Hygiene

It’s also important that you always practice good hygiene. 

Whenever you’re cleaning bird feeders, your surroundings, or tidying the ground under your bird feeders, make sure that your hands are clean. This way, you don’t spread more bacteria or germs that may also make the birds sick. 

At the same time, it’s a great way to ensure that you stay healthy. Some bird diseases can get to humans, too, and you surely don’t want to risk your health and your family’s health. 

11. Act Early

All the things listed above are good ways to prevent the spread of diseases. And you need to make sure that you do all of these, even before you start seeing sick or dead birds. 

If you wait for an outbreak, then it’s too late. There would be no way that you’re going to prevent birds from getting infected. 

Perhaps the next big thing that you can do is remove all bird feeders and stop feeding until the number of infected birds goes down. 

13. Don’t Use Pesticides Or Insecticides In Your Yard

The use of harmful pesticides in your yard can be fatal for songbird and seed-eating birds. This is common sense, but when pesticides are sprayed on flowers and shrubs, they can be consumed by birds in your yard. Instead, use natural methods of controlling pests and insects. Click here to read more about the effect of pesticides on birds.

12. Spread The Word

Last but not least, don’t forget to spread the word. 

If you have neighbors who are bird watchers and also put up bird feeders, don’t forget to share these things with them, too. After all, it’s going to be useless if you’re the only person in your neighborhood that does all this prevention.

So, don’t be shy to share what you learned here with some bird watcher friends to protect all backyard birds around you. 

Common Bird Diseases

Now that we know how to prevent bird feeder disease, let’s look at the most common diseases that birds can get. I’ll also detail some symptoms seen, so you can easily identify them. 

SalmonellosisEveryone knows the danger of eating raw chicken. It’s common knowledge that chickens contain salmonella, which can go to humans if you consume chicken raw. Well, it turns out chickens are not the only birds that can be infected by this disease. 

Songbirds are also very susceptible to this disease which usually starts as an intestinal tract infection. Unfortunately, this also means that droppings of sick birds contain the bacteria. 

It’s easily spread in contaminated bird feeders. 

You’ll often observe sick birds suffer from diarrhea, lethargy, and ruffled feathers. But in the worst cases, infected birds could die within 1-3 days.
TrichomoniasisThis is a disease caused by the bacteria Trichomonas gallinae. It affects a wide variety of bird species which includes finches, doves, pigeons, and even predators like hawks and falcons. 

Infected birds develop sores inside their mouths and throats. This makes it difficult for them to consume food, and most of the time, they just drop contaminated seeds on the ground that can be eaten by healthy birds – spreading the infection in bird feeders. 
AspergillosisAspergillosis is caused by a fungus, which means that it’s most likely to occur if you have a damp bird seed mix. 

As we know, most fungi have spores, which can be inhaled by birds, causing them to get sick. Most infected species develop bronchitis or pneumonia, making it difficult for them to breathe. On top of that, they may also develop diarrhea and may soon just die. 
ConjunctivitisNext, we have conjunctivitis, an infection that commonly affects birds’ vision. Symptoms would usually include red, swollen, or crusty eyes.

Although not very deadly, not seeing can cause a bird to starve and become an easier target of predators. 
Avian PoxAside from bacteria and fungi, birds can also be affected by a virus, and one of those viral diseases is the Avian Pox. 

Infected birds often show symptoms of lesions on their legs, eyelids, beak, and mouth. But most often, the cause of death for these birds is the lesions around their eyes that blur their vision. But if things go well, most birds do recover from the virus. 

However, in the duration that they spend time in the bird feeders, healthy birds can easily get infected by getting in contact with infected birds or mosquito bites. 
Mites and LiceLike many animals, birds also get mites and lice. These parasites suck blood, causing birds to be anemic, which can be fatal to young birds.
West Nile VirusThere’s probably not one bird watcher who has not heard about this virus. It’s a virus known to infect a lot of birds. And though many birds die from this virus, most of them also survive and become carriers of the disease, spreading it to humans and other mammals.

How To Spot Sick Birds

So, how do you spot sick birds? 

Yes, knowing the symptoms of the most common diseases might be helpful, but birds can get sick for various reasons. And sometimes, they show some general symptoms that might be easier to identify. 

Some things you might notice are: 

  • Dull and unfocused eyes
  • Rumpled feathers
  • Swollen eyes
  • Wet eyes or mouth
  • Nose discharge
  • Matted feathers
  • Visible lesions or wounds

But if you can’t recognize visible symptoms, you might also observe these certain behaviors:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Having a hard time to fly
  • Drinks a lot
  • Doesn’t move even when approached
  • Unsteady posture
  • Limping
  • Looking tired
  • Getting snapped by healthier birds

However, there are birds that, even if showing these behaviors or symptoms, may not be sick. This may include baby birds, molting birds, and bald birds. So, you need to be careful at identifying sick birds from those that are not, and be very careful that you don’t touch healthy birds. 

Treating Sick Birds

So, how do you treat sick birds? 

Well, sometimes, you just need to leave birds alone when they’re sick. Most of the time, stronger birds just get better even without you needing to take care of them. But, there are some ways that you can do: 

  • Make sure that their surroundings are clean
  • Keep feeders clean
  • Supply fresh and high-quality seeds all the time
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods
  • Supply clean water
  • Keep the area safe

In other words, just continue doing what you are doing, and the birds will also do their best to get back their strength. 

What To Do When You Find Dead Birds

If there’s news of an outbreak in your area, and you found dead birds, the best course of action is probably not to touch them and call professionals to handle that. 

However, if you think you can touch them, you need to take some extra precautions. This includes wearing some gloves and observing good hygiene before you handle a dead bird. 

Once you’ve picked up a dead bird, place it inside a plastic bag and put that bag inside another plastic bag. Then, bury the bird somewhere away from your backyard, so your pets and family members stay safe. 

Final Thoughts About Preventing Bird Feeder Disease

Birds get sick, and that’s something that we have no control over. It’s sad, but that’s how nature works. 

We, however, can do something to prevent the spread of these diseases to our beautiful birds by doing our part. And that is by ensuring that they are safe in our backyards. 

  • Keep them safe
  • Clean the surroundings
  • Give high-quality food

Those are three basic things but are very helpful, as long as you follow them well. 

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