Birds don’t generally need food from backyard feeders to survive, but the activity is a great way to interact with nature and if done properly, won’t harm bird populations. Here's how to make sure you are keeping birds and other wildlife safe when feeding birds.
When to Feed
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department recommends that Vermonters only feed birds during the winter months to avoid attracting bears. Bears are very fond of suet and bird seed, especially black oil sunflower seed. Bringing feeders in at night doesn’t work, because bears will still feed on seed that is spilled on the ground.
While we generally recommend people only put bird feeders out from December 1 through March 31, variable winter weather can sometimes dictate that birdfeeders should be removed even during this period. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s generally “wintery” out for an extended period of time, with consistent snow on the ground and temperatures at or below freezing, you can keep your birdfeeder out.
Remember: purposely feeding a bear is not just bad for the bear, it’s also illegal.
Care and Maintenance of Feeders
Cleaning bird feeders on a regular basis is an important and often overlooked component of feeding birds so they don’t become sick. Feeding birds in the winter is a source of great enjoyment for bird enthusiasts, but it can also cause diseases to spread quickly among wild birds. It is critical to clean birdfeeders at least once a month in order to prevent a build-up of harmful pathogens.
Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites can cause diseases such as aspergillosis, salmonella, avian pox, trichomoniasis, and conjunctivitis. Species commonly affected by bird feeder diseases are redpolls, pine siskins, goldfinches, sparrows, and cardinals.
Cleaning Your Bird Feeder
- Use a solution of one part bleach to nine parts hot water to kill bacteria. Hot water with unscented dish detergent also does an excellent job.
- Wear rubber gloves to avoid any contamination.
- Clean inside and outside surfaces. Bottle brushes work well in tube feeders.
- Thoroughly rinse your feeders to prevent residual chlorine from being ingested by birds.
- Dry the feeders well before filling them again. Any remaining moisture could lead to mold and mildew that can cause rotten, unhealthy seed.
Also, take time to remove seed and droppings in nearby areas where birds congregate. Birds can spill seed and leave debris several feet away from feeders.
Clean birdfeeders and feeding areas will attract more birds and keep them healthier for birders to enjoy!
Habitat for Birds
Learn how to create habitat for birds and other wildlife in your backyard, and what birds you can expect to see when you do.