Bird feeders can be a tranquil and welcoming environment for birds — unless they’re not properly cared for. According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife, bird feeders spread diseases like salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, pigeon paramyxovirus, and avian pox. In other cases, old wet seeds can grow mould and mildew, harming the birds who feed on them. All of these circumstances are life-threatening to birds, so keeping your feeder clean is an important part of the process.
Here’s how often to clean your feeder and the best way to get it done properly.
How often should you clean a bird feeder?
Elizabeth Tillman from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends cleaning bird feeders once a month to prevent any build-up and bacteria, and the Colorado Parks & Wildlife urge washing feeders twice a month.
Cleaning feeders once a month is probably adequate but cleaning every two weeks is recommended for the warmer months when more birds are feeding from it and there is a higher risk of bacteria. Professionals also recommend using plastic feeders instead of wooden feeders, which tend to hold in moisture.
How to clean a bird feeder
To clean plastic birdseed feeders, you’ll need the following:
Two large bins or basins
Bleach or vinegar
Rubber cleaning gloves
You’ll start by putting on those rubber gloves to protect you from any harmful bacteria that may have accumulated on the feeder. Next, take the feeder apart and empty the seeds. If there isn’t too much seed left in the feeder and it’s dry, you can let the seeds fall to the ground — if you are in an open area where kids and dogs don’t play. (You and the kids probably don’t want to be romping through bird poop later.) You can also dispose of any bad seed in the garbage.
After you’ve cleared the seed from the feeder, add a squirt of dish soap to the first basin and fill it with one part bleach and nine parts water. (For a natural alternative to bleach, use white vinegar instead.) Then, fill the other bin with cool, clear water.
Dunk the bird feeder into the solution, so it is fully submerged. If the feeder is especially dirty, let it soak until you see the dirt loosening. After soaking, use the scrubbing brush to get in between the nooks and crannies of each piece. Once you’ve washed it thoroughly, put the feeder into the bin of cool water to rinse. Ensure all parts are completely clear of soap, and the bleach (or vinegar) is completely rinsed off. Wipe down with the microfiber cloth to dry.
Let the feeder dry completely before filling with seed, as leftover moisture can lead to mould and mildew. Lifestyle site The Spruce suggests letting the feeder dry in direct sunlight — the sun will remove any remaining soap or chemicals that could harm the birds.
Watch Tillman’s instructional video for detailed visuals.
Cleaning hummingbird feeders
The process for cleaning a hummingbird feeder is a little different because they hold liquid rather than seeds. The Cornel Lab of Ornithology site All About Birds suggests changing the sugar water two or three times a week to prevent mould and fermentation.
Hummingbird feeders ought to be cleaned with hot water and a scrubbing brush. The Cornel Lab cautions against using soap or detergent, which can contaminate the water. Although it might seem like a harsher solution, using nine parts water and one part bleach (or vinegar) is enough to sanitize the feeder. Make sure to rinse thoroughly to eliminate any leftover solution and let it dry in direct sunlight to protect your hummingbirds against any leftover cleaning residue.