Your bird feeders will get a lot of attention from birds, but that also means a lot of dirt to clean up. Not only do birds defecate a lot, but the leftover food itself can develop mold and bacteria, contaminating new food.
To ensure the birds in your yard are happy and healthy, and that the feeders you use keep serving you for a long time, here are the best ways to maintain your feeders!
1. Clean Your Solid Food Feeders Regularly
The most important thing to keep in mind is regular cleaning of your feeders. How often you need to clean them depends on how popular they are among birds.
There’s no need to clean a feeder until it’s been emptied out. If you need to refill a feeder once a week, clean it every other week. If it’s only refilled monthly, clean it before that refill.
When cleaning, it’s important to use the right solutions. You can use homemade solutions such as bleach and water or vinegar and water (in a 1:9 ratio), or store-bought bird feeder cleaning solutions.
The first thing you should do is clear out all the food debris, which is usually only seed shells. Wash the feeder with a water hose to get rid of all the larger chunks.
Then, soak it in a large sink or a plastic container for fifteen minutes just to make the dirt easier to scrub off.
Once it’s been soaked, all that’s left to do is scrub the inside and the outer side of the feeder and get rid of all the dirt. For this part, it’s best to wear gloves, as you don’t want your hands to come in contact with bleach.
After you’ve cleaned all the dirt, rinse the feeder thoroughly. Ingested bleach is very dangerous, and since birds are so small, it can be harmful to them even in small quantities.
If it’s sunny outside, leave the feeder to dry in the sun. If not, dry it with a rag.
Safety precaution – Birds can make a terrible mess when they defecate, and it’d be best if you wore a mask when scrubbing it off. You do not want to breathe in the things that leave their system.
2. Hummingbird Feeders Require More Frequent Cleaning
Since hummingbird feeders are liquid feeders that provide sugar water to these lovely birds, they require a different type of cleaning.
It’s highly recommended that you clean your hummingbird feeder every time it’s emptied.
Sugar water can ferment very quickly out in the sun, so even if there’s still some nectar in the feeder after three to five days, it’d be best to throw it away and clean the feeder.
The stickiness of the sugar and water solution will cause it to stick to the inside walls of the feeder, growing mold and contaminating new nectar.
Just like with regular feeders – empty it, hose out the larger debris left over by the bids (feces, for example), and then wash it with a vinegar-water solution.
Rinse it and leave it to dry before you refill it.
In the fall, homemade nectar won’t ferment as quickly because of the lower temperatures, and the number of hummingbirds should be lower, so you won’t need to wash your feeder as often.
3. Wooden Feeders Need Special Care
The biggest difference between wooden and metal feeders is the discoloration of wooden feeders with time. To prevent this, you’ll need to cover it in wood sealant when you notice that the color is fading away.
This should go without saying, but let the coat of sealant dry before putting the food out. Do not apply sealant to part of the platform where the food is served. Birds will ingest the chemicals mixed with the food, and this can kill them.
You should also never wash wooden feeders with steel wool, as you’ll scratch the wood and destroy the coat of paint. A simple sponge is more than enough for a wooden feeder.
Finally, when washing a wooden feeder, don’t let it soak. Wood is known for absorbing water and that will destroy your feeder.
4. Clean The Area Around The Feeders
Birds can’t control their bowel movements – it’s more of a reflex, involuntary action with them.
Because of this, the area around your feeders is going to be covered in food debris and bird feces. Bacteria and parasitic organisms will start developing here, and the feeder will attract flies, mice, and other pests.
Also, your dog or cat might be a bit too curious and try eating it to find out what it is, so it’s best to keep the area clean.
It’s easier to clean it during the winter, as you can take a snow shovel and throw away both the snow and the dirt. During the dry months, you’ll need to rake the dirt, throw it away, and then hose the area down a bit.
5. Set Up Several Feeders And Use Them Periodically
You should be happy if your yard is popular with birds, but know that this poses a potential problem. If too many birds congregate on a single feeder, they’ll be creating a lot of mess at such a rate that you won’t be able to clean it all properly.
To prevent this issue, the British Trust for Ornithology suggests setting up a few feeders (three, for example) and rotating them – only keeping two full at a time.
That way, food debris and feces won’t constantly build up under a single feeder, and you’ll have enough time to clean it before birds start building up the infectious materials again.
To prevent food buildup, don’t overfill the feeders!