Weather Alert

Bird bath hygiene important for healthy feathered friends

A house sparrow and northern flicker (Photo by Karl Schilling)

DES MOINES — Many Iowans enjoy attracting songbirds to their feeders year-round and to keep those feathered friends healthy, a bird expert urges people to clean their feeders thoroughly at least once a season.

Anna Buckardt Thomas, an avian ecologist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says as we’ve just transitioned from winter to spring, it’s an ideal time to make sure there’s no moldy seeds in your feeder.

“We do encourage people to make an effort to not only dump out rotten seeds but to also clean the feeder to make sure none of that mold residue is there and won’t infect the new seed or the birds that are eating there,” Thomas says. “If you just take it inside and give it a good wash, that definitely does a lot.”

If your feeder isn’t cleaned properly, unsanitary conditions can lead to the spread of several diseases among birds that feed there, some of which can be fatal to the birds.

“One disease especially from that rotten food or moldy food is called aspergillosis and it affects the lungs of the bird,” Thomas says. “Salmonella is another disease and it’s usually contracted and spread between birds either from their feces or shared water or if they have direct contact with each other.”

Thomas suggests cleaning feeders with a 10% bleach solution and make sure the feeder is dry before refilling it with seed. Also, she says to wear rubber gloves while cleaning feeders, since humans can contract some diseases from affected feeders or sick birds.

It’s also important to routinely clean bird baths and watering stations. “It’s easy for things to grow in that water,” Thomas says. “Especially in the summer, you want to make sure your bird bath has fresh water about once a week. Give it a good scrub to make sure any fecal matter is out of there so that birds won’t come into contact with other birds’ fecal matter and spread diseases that way.”

If Iowans find sick birds at their feeders, Thomas suggests taking down the feeders for at least two weeks to help stop the spread of any diseases. There are some 430 species of birds in Iowa.

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