The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Make Bird Feeding Safe for the Birds

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

For many gardeners their interest shifts in the winter from plants to birds. I switch from fussing over the container plants all summer to fussing over the bird feeders all winter. I guess I'm determined to be a part of the landscape no matter what the weather. I need to check on the legality of the compost pile as a final resting place.

The first step to encouraging birds and other wildlife into our yards is to have a diverse landscape. There should be areas of trees, shrubs, ground covers, lawn and flowers. Evergreen trees provide important winter shelter and seed. Many attractive plants provide food for wildlife. In designing a landscape keep in mind birds need shelter, water and a fine place to raise the kids.

Commercial birdseed can be used to supplement natural foods in the landscape. Bird feeding can bring us great enjoyment, but if it is not done properly it can become a dangerous activity for the birds.

Since many birds congregate at feeders, feeders can be a source of disease. Spoiled food and contaminated water and surfaces can be sources of infection from bacteria and virus. Sick birds may die directly from disease or may become more susceptible to the effects of harsh weather or poor nutrition. We can recognize sick birds by their unkempt feathers, or they may appear less alert, feed less and are often reluctant to fly away when approached.

Here are a few tips to keep bird-feeding fun for all.

  • Keep feeders clean. Clean and disinfect feeders at least once or twice a month. Use a bristle bush to clean the feeder than immerse it for two or three minutes in a 10 percent solution of household bleach. Allow the feeder to air dry before refilling.

  • Every few days, use a shovel and broom to remove seed hulls, uneaten seed and droppings from the ground.

  • Use several feeders to avoid over crowding plus you will attract a greater variety of birds with different kinds of feeders and seed.

  • Use only fresh seed. Do not use any seed that smells or looks moldy.

  • Every day, rinse birdbaths and replace the water. Periodically scrub the bath with a detergent and rinse thoroughly before refilling. Once every two weeks, scrub bath with detergent, rinse, then let it stand with a 10 percent bleach solution for two or three minutes. Make sure birds do not try to use the bath with bleach solution. Pour bleach out and allow bath to air dry, then rinse it well and air-dry again before refilling.

  • To protect yourself, wear gloves and wash your hands after cleaning feeders and birdbaths.

  • Place the bird feeder where cats cannot hide and pounce. Although birds like some cover nearby, keep several feet of open area around feeders and baths. Do you know what cats call a bird feeder? Smorgasbord. So better yet, do not let cats roam outdoors. In some areas it is illegal. Despite popular opinion, putting a bell on a cat does not protect wildlife. Cats will usually wait silently for an opportunity to pounce. Plus wild animals do not necessarily associate the ringing of a bell with danger. Even a well-fed tabby will kill wildlife. The urge to hunt remains strong even in domesticated cats. Few birds or small mammals will survive a cat attack even if they get away before becoming lunch. Infection from the cat's teeth or claws or the stress of capture usually results in death.

If you plan on feeding the birds, do it responsibly to protect bird safety.

Teachers of 4th, 5th and 6th graders – Teacher inservice on December 4 highlighting the Wonderwise - Women in Science hands on kits. Call 217-333-7672 for more information.

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