Cleaning bird feeders and birdhouses

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Cleaning bird feeders
Most of us don’t expect a mouse inside our bird feeder, like you see in the photo below! But that would certainly be a good reason to clean a feeder. A close look shows the feeder needs cleaning for other reasons, too, including leftovers and debris inside.

Birds appreciate a clean “dinner plate.” How do we know? Because parents remove their nestlings’ droppings from their nest — there’s no reason to think they don’t also dislike droppings stuck to a bird feeder. A dirty feeder fosters moldy, unhealthy food and, sometimes, dangerous bacteria. Also it’s not a good idea to crowd feeders. Having to jostle for food can be stressful for birds, making them more vulnerable to disease. Use quality food. Protect your stored seed from rodents, who can carry bird diseases, as well as contaminate it with feces and dirt.

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(Bob Franklin / Flickr; CC)

A feeder should be cleaned every two to four weeks. More often, if necessary: Is dirt stuck to it? Are feces stuck to it? Is moldy food stuck to the bottom? Then it needs to be cleaned. (Between cleanings, shake out old seed stuck to the bottom when refilling the feeder.) Cleaning is especially important following periods of heaviest usage by local and migrating birds: late winter, early summer, late summer and late fall.

Wear rubber gloves. A bucket, some bleach and a brush (or power washer, if you have one) are all you need. For tubular feeders, use a long, narrow brush that’s sized appropriately for the feeder. Never use a pesticide. To kill germs and parasites, use a bleach solution of one part bleach to nine parts water (1:9). Position yourself so you won’t inhale any debris that’s in or on the feeder as you clean it. Scrub it inside and out. Rinse. (If your local store doesn’t carry special brushes for cleaning tubular feeders, the link listed in the right column of this page will take you to an Amazon selection to suit your needs.) This is a good time to rake up and dispose of all the debris that has accumulated under your bird feeders.

Cleaning birdhouses
Clean birdhouses at least once a year if you want occupants to Photo of some typical tools used in a common feeder and birdhouse cleaning project. return season after season. Not only is it important for the birds’ health, but they prefer a clean environment — they routinely remove their offsprings’ fecal matter from the nest.

Make sure fledglings have left the birdhouse by quietly approaching from the side and gently tapping on it. If you hear no noises, raise the hinged roof or sidewall. (Always purchase or build birdhouses that are easy to open — you’ll be glad you did.)

Don’t clean birdhouses within your house — the nesting material is unsanitary and also may contain parasites. Wear rubber gloves. As you remove the nest and dispose of it, position yourself so that you won’t be inhaling any of the debris. Or use a face mask or towel over your nose and mouth. Don’t save the nest for display.

Use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water (1:9). Scrub the feeder inside and out. Rinse. Leave it in the sun. Once it’s completely dry, it’s ready for winter storage. Some people store them in plastic to keep critters from climbing inside.

Do you leave your birdhouses hanging outside for birds to roost in over the winter? If so, it’s a good idea to clean and disinfect them beforehand to rid them of any parasites. Temporarily plug ventilation holes with foam weatherstripping. If possible, cover the roof with a dark shingle to further insulate and to absorb heat from the sun. Position the shingle to overhang the entrance by a couple of inches, to help keep rain and snow out. If the house has a rotating entrance hole, move it to the bottom (warm air will rise inside, keeping birds warmer.) Don’t forget to remove the insulation and shingle in the spring and rotate the entrance back to the top.) If houses are used over the winter, clean and disinfect them again so they’ll be sanitary for spring’s nesting birds.

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