Dirty bird feeders can create an incubator for bacteria, fungi, molds, and parasites that can infect hungry birds.
Infected birds can then spread diseases to other bird feeders, other yards, and birds in the wild.
They can trigger epidemics that wipe out entire flocks of birds if the disease is not stopped.
Keeping bird feeding stations clean stops the spread of disease and encourages more birds to visit your backyard.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how and why to keep your bird feeders clean so the birds that visit your landscape can stay healthy.
Why Is It Important to Keep Bird Feeders Clean?
Moldy seed and bird droppings accumulating in bird feeders don’t just cause diseases.
They cause other problems including:
- Unpleasant odors. Some wildlife, like mice, rats, and dung beetles are attracted to foul odors. Dirty bird feeders attract these undesirable animals to your yard.
- Accumulations of debris and grease. Dirt and grime washing off your bird feeder can kill grass and flowers.
- Violation of HOA rules. Your homeowner’s association may have rules about how you must maintain the appearance of bird feeders on your property.
- Wear and tear on your feeder. Dirt and debris encourage rust and corrosion that can make your feeder leaky or unsafe.
Fortunately, it is not hard to keep bird feeders clean, and cleaning prevents these kinds of problems.
How to Clean a Bird Feeder? Useful Tips!
Birdwatchers who really care about birds will clean their feeders regularly.
Cleaning prevents the spread of disease, but it also attracts more birds and a greater variety of birds who enjoy feeding on clean seed and other bird food.
For the cleanest bird feeders possible:
Start by Buying Bird Feeders Made from the Right Materials
Glass, glazed ceramics, metal, and recycled plastic are easy to clean, but wood is not.
Feathers, twigs and sticks, and feces stick to wood and accumulate over time.
Wood also absorbs oils from nuts and seeds, which can go rancid.
Bird feeders made of wood are harder to keep clean.
Clean all of your bird feeders at least once a month
Bird seed will go bad after several weeks’ exposure to heat and humidity. Every bird feeder should be cleaned at least once a month.
High-traffic bird feeders and hummingbird feeders need to be cleaned every time they are filled with food.
Use the right cleaning solution
Clean bird feeders with a commercial feeder cleaner or with about a tablespoon of unscented dishwashing detergent in a quart (about a liter) of warm water.
Then rinse with a mixture of 10 parts hot water to one part bleach.
Soak the feeder to loosen caked-on bird droppings and debris
Immersing the feeder in a utility sink or wash tub full of hot water to loosen hardened bird poop and debris makes cleaning easier.
Use a container large enough to hold the entire feeder so dirt and grime on every surface can be removed.
Soak the feeder in the mixture of water and bleach for at least 10 minutes to kill germs.
Make sure you clean every part of the bird feeder
To prevent the spread of disease, take the time to clean your bird feeder inside and out.
Any poles, hooks, perches, and any place where bird droppings can accumulate should be thoroughly cleaned.
Don’t forget to wear gloves and a face mask
Bird droppings don’t just spread diseases to other birds. They also can cause diseases in people, such as histoplasmosis and ornithosis.
Just breathing in the dust from a dirty bird feeder can give you the disease.
Remove your gloves and mask in a way that does not contaminate your hands when you have finished cleaning your feeder.
Use appropriate scrubbing tools
Your pet supply store or building improvement center will have specialized brushes for cleaning bird feeders.
Otherwise, you can use bottle brushes or an old toothbrush for cleaning tight corners, feeding ports, and tight corners.
Use a pipe cleaner for cleaning feeding port holes.
Rinse your feeder thoroughly after every cleaning
Anything you clean needs to be rinsed.
There should be no stuck-on debris, no suds, and no chemical odors on your feeder after rinsing.
Dry your feeder thoroughly after rinsing
Drying cleaners in direct sunlight kills bacteria and breaks down lingering chemical odors.
Feeders need to be completely dry before you add birdseed and other bird food to prevent spoilage.
It’s Important to Clean Around Bird Feeders, Too
It isn’t enough just to keep bird feeders clean. It is important to clean the ground around the bird feeder, too.
Hungry birds can spill seed, fruit sections, nuts, and suet several feet away from their feeder.
The entire area around a feeder needs to be kept clean to keep birds healthy.
- Remove moldy or damp seed and seed hulls from the ground beneath your bird feeder.
- Refresh the mulch or gravel beneath the feeder to prevent feces from drying and forming airborne dust particles. This is for your safety, as well as for the health of your birds.
- Mow the grass beneath feeders short so it will be easier to keep clean.
- If birds feed at your fruit trees, pick up fallen fruit so it does not decay and attract undesirable insects and animals.
Don’t Let Birdseed Get Soggy
Damp birdseed doesn’t just form a clumpy mass of fermented mess in your bird feeder. It can also cause multiple problems at your backyard feeding station.
Soggy birdseed becomes moldy.
One of the molds that can grow on birdseed is Aspergillus, the microorganism that causes aspergillosis, a potentially fatal lung infection in birds (and also in people).
Soggy seed ferments. While it is rare for birdseed to ferment and form alcohol, this problem is not unknown.
Drunk birds are in extra danger from predators, cars, and flying into windows. The odor of fermented bird seed attracts some birds, but repels many others.
The foul odor can discourage birds from taking advantage of the birdbath or other amenities you have installed in your backyard.
Damp seed becomes sticky. This problem is greatest with oily seeds such as Nyjer, hulled sunflower seeds, and black oil sunflower seeds.
These seeds can clog the feeding ports, so birds cannot reach the rest of the food you have left out for them.
They can also form oily stains, which make your bird feeder unsightly.
Don’t overlook the problem of sprouting. Damp seed germinates. Most birds won’t eat seeds once they have sprouted.
If the damp seed falls to the ground and takes root, it can grow to maturity, seed again, and spread across your lawn like weeds.
They can disrupt the lawn where you hang the feeder as well as nearby flower beds and turf grasses.
How to Avoid Problems with Damp or Moldy Seed
The best way to keep bird seed dry and mold-free is to hang your feeder so it is protected from rain and snow.
To locate your feeder so it is protected from precipitation, consider:
- Use high-quality bird seed in small amounts: Even if your bird feeder isn’t in an ideal position, the birdseed it contains won’t get wet if birds eat it first. High-quality bird seed goes faster and is less likely to get wet. Putting out small amounts of seeds more frequently also reduces the risk of spoilage.
- Squirrel baffles: Adding a squirrel baffle to your bird feeder will keep squirrels out and keep out the rain, too. Hang this cover as close as possible to the feeding area while still giving the birds access to their food. Low baffles also make it harder for starlings to take over your feeder.
- Feeder position: Don’t hang your bird feeder where it can get splashed by water sprinklers. Avoid windy areas where snow and rain can be blowing into the feeder.
- Roof eaves and overhangs: The sturdy eave of a roof with several feet of overhang can provide the perfect place for a bird feeder—as long as it is at least 5 feet (125 cm) from any window, to keep birds from flying into the glass. Check the way the overhang is joined to the rest of the roof to make sure there won’t be any drips or leaks from the roof onto the feeder.
- Mesh construction: Bird feeders that hold their seed in a mesh bag have more air circulation so there are fewer effects of high humidity. Using a birdseed feeder with mesh sides under a solid roof is a great way to keep seed dry, but be sure the feeder isn’t exposed to the strong wind during rainstorms and thunderstorms.
- Drainage: Every feeder needs a drainage hole to let the tiny amounts of water that get inside the feeder drain out. In very wet climates, multiple drainage holes may be necessary. Drainage holes can get clogged by small, oily seeds, such as the Nyjer and sunflower seeds previously mentioned. Check the drainage hole regularly if you feed oily seeds.
- Feeding ports: Covered feeding ports that a bird has to lift with its beak are less likely to let rain and snow inside. Recessed feeding ports also keep the seed dryer. Open trays easily get wet.
It is always best to choose the right place to hang your bird feeder, fill it with small amounts of high-quality seed every few days, and clean it whenever necessary—but at least once a month.
Clean feeders with dry seed keep the birds that visit your yard healthy, happy, and returning every year.
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