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The Importance of Cleaning Bird Feeders: Keeping Irish Birds Healthy

Updated: May 24, 2023

Love for wild birds increased in recent years, undoubtedly aided by pandemic as many people found themselves confined to their gardens. Bird watching as hobby boomed and bird feeders become a popular way to attract and provide food for these feathered friends. However, it is important to remember that bird feeders can also be a source of disease spread if they are not cleaned on a regular basis. The most common bird disease associated with dirty feeders is Trichomoniasis, also known as “finch disease.”

Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite, which affects birds of the finch family, mainly green finches. This disease is easily spread from bird to bird through contaminated food and water. Sick birds will display symptoms such fluffed up feathers throughout the day, will be slow to fly away and will show difficulty swallowing, with bits of food and saliva stuck around the bill.

To prevent the spread of diseases, it is essential to clean the bird feeders regularly. Start by removing all old food with scrub, washing the feeder with warm, soapy water, and allowing it to dry completely before refilling it with fresh birdseed. You can also use diluted 50/50 vinegar and water solution as organic disinfectant. It is also a good idea to wash bird baths and birdhouses at the same time, as these can also harbor harmful bacteria and parasites.

It is important to note that certain types of birdseed can attract rodents, which can carry diseases that can infect birds. To minimize the risk buy birdseed that is Wheat Free such as High Energy, no mess 12 seed mix (Wheat Free) or similar. Wheat is used as cheap bulking agent. Small garden birds dislike wheat and will throw it out of feeders on the ground to rot or attract rats or pigeons.

In addition to cleaning bird feeders, it is also important to avoid overcrowding at the feeder. This can increase the risk of disease transmission. It is good idea to have multiple feeders at different location in the garden.

How often should I clean the bird feeders?: is common question and the simple answer is "as often as possible." Ideally the bird feeders should be cleaned on weekly basis or every second week but no less than once a month.

What do I do if I see sick bird?: it is often advised to take down the feeders for about a week or two and sterilize them properly. Then put the bird feeders back out and monitor for few days in case the sick bird returns. While cleaning will help, the removal of the feeders might not have the impact as it`s expected, the birds will simply move on to different bird feeders which might not be cleaned or monitored regularly. So it`s a personal judgement call.

Happy Gardening

Related read:

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