on How To Feed Birds
Feeding Do's and Don'ts
Dear Bird Feeder:
Bird feeding provides
enjoyment to millions of North Americans each year. When proper feedingmethods
are followed, both humans and birds derive benefits from feeders.However,
recent researchon the impact of bird feeding has shown that feeders cn
sometimes be a source of disease for the birdsvisiting them. There is good
news, too: With minimal effort, any feeder operator in North America can
provide a safe,
healthy feeding station for birds. This flyer, compiled by the editors
at Bird Watcher's Digest, offers useful tips andtechniques for maximizing
your bird feeding enjoyment.
— Bill Thompson,III,
editor, Bird Watcher's Digest.
for a Healthy Feeding Station
Give your seed feeders (especially thistle and tube feeders) a shake
before you refill them, to dislodge any compacted seed. Dump out
any wet clumps of old seed.
Clean all hulls off platform feeders and out of seed trays daily.
Keep some old spatulas and brushes handy by the feeding station
for cleaning purposes.
Disinfect feeders by scrubbing with a weak bleach solution (1/4
cup of bleach to 2 gallons of wam water) every few weeks, more often
in summer or rainy periods. Rinse and allow feeders to dry before
Wash your hands thoroughly after filling or cleaning your feeders.
Move your feeding station when the ground beneath it becomes covered
with seed hulls and droppings. Rake the old site to remove hulls
and to give the grass a chance to recover.
Store your seed in a clean, dry, air-tight container, such as a
metal or plastic garbage can.
Don't put hulled sunflower hearts (or bits) out where wet weather
can cause them to spoil. Offer them in a tube or hopper feeder.
Don't put out any more seed than can be eaten by the birds by nightfall,
especially where raccoons, opossums, bears, deer, or rodents are
Don't use grease, oil, petroleum jelly, or similar substances on your feeder
poles or wires to thwart squirrels, ants, or other feeder-raiding creatures.
If these substances come into contact with bird feathers they are impossible
for the bird to preen or wash out. Gooey feathers can become useless for
flight or insulation, thus putting the birds at risk to predators, extreme
weather, and disease. For squirrels and other mammals, use a pole- mounted
baffle (many are sold commercially). For ants, use an ant guard that prevents
ants from reaching the feeder. Both baffles and ant guards are available
on the Internet, by mail- order, or in retail stores that sell an extensive
array of backyard products.
Don't allow large amounts of seed to become wet, as on platform
feeders. Instead, when it's wet outside, feed primarily from covered feeders
that will keep seed dry, or put out only a handful of seed at a time on
If you see a sick or dead bird at your feeders, halt your feeding
for a few weeks to allow the healthy birds to disperse. This lessens
the possibility of disease transmission. Remove and discard in the
trash any dead birds. Report the sick birds to your local wildlife
officials, many of whom monitor wildlife health.
If you provide suet, reduce the amount you offer in hot weather.
Heat can make suet rancid and unhealthy for birds. Runny suet can
also stick to birds' feathers, making them hard to keep clean and
useful. Use rendered suet or heat-resilient suet blocks that are
Reduce window-kills of birds by placing feeders a safe distance
away. If birds regularly strike a particular window place a screen,
crop netting, or a series of branches over or in front of the outside
glass panel to break up the reflection.
Though birds may not be entirely dependent on your feeder it's best
not to leave them totally without food if you plan to be away from
home in mid-winter. Purchase an oversized feeder with a large seed
capacity, or ask a willing neighbor to continue feeding your birds.
Don't discontinue feeding as soon as the grass greens and the weather
warms in spring. Many birds will continue coming to your feeders
all summer long.
for Better Feeding
Black-oil sunflower seed is the
most widely used bird seed, popular with the greatest number of
bird species. Its thin shell and large nutmeat are ideal for most
Offer a variety of seeds and
food in a variety of appropriate feeders (sunflower seed
in tube, hopper, or platform feeders, thistle in tube feeders, peanuts
in peanut feeders, suet in suet cages and mixed seed on platform
feeders or scattered on dry ground).
Offer the thick-shelled gray-striped
sunflower seed to grosbeaks, jays, chickadees, titmice,
If your feeder is overrun
with blackbirds, pigeons, or house sparrows, stop offering
mixed seed on the ground or on platform feeders. Feed only black-oil
sunflower seed in tube or hopper feeders until the problem species
Don't offer so-called wild
bird mixes in tube feeders. These are better fed on platforms
or out of hopper feeders. Birds that prefer sunflower seed will
just empty the feeder to get at the sunflower seeds.
Make a brushpile near your
feeder to make sparrows, towhees, and other shy birds feel
more at home, but be sure it won't harbor roaming cats.
Add natural features to your
feeding station, such as branches to perch on, to make
birds feel more at ease.
for Feeding Hummingbirds
Don't use hummingbird
feeders that are difficult to clean, or have many small
Do wash your
hummingbird feeders thoroughly with hot-soapy water, and
rinse completely, every time your refill them.
Don't allow molds
or yeasts to grow in your hummingbird feeders. When these
appear, empty and scrub feeders immediately.
When making hummingbird
nectar, blend water and white table sugar in a 4 to 1 ratio
(4 parts water to 1 part sugar). Add the sugar to boiling water.
Bring the mixture to a boil again while stirring to dissolve the
sugar, then let cool.
Don't use insecticides,
such as wasp killers, anywhere near bird feeders, especially hummingbird
Don't use anything
but white, granulated table sugar. No powdered or brown
sugar, honey, molasses, red food coloring, artificial sweeteners
or nutrients should be used.
for Healthy Bird Baths
bird baths under feeders or perches, where droppings can
fall into them.
Rinse and scrub
birdbaths daily in summer, or whenever they become fouled
with bird droppings. Once a month, scrub out with a light bleach
solution (1/4 cup of bleach to 2 gallons of water), rinse thoroughly
"The Problem with Bird
Feeding," Eirik A.T. Blom, September/October 1999 Bird Water'sDigest.,
"Enjoying Bird Feeding
More," by Julie Zickefoose. Paperback, 32 pages, full color (1995
BWD Press, P.O. Box 110, Marietta, OH 45750. 800-879-2473. www.birdwatersdisgest.com)
"An Identification Guide
to Common Backyard Birds," by Bill Thompson, III and Eirik T.Blom.
Paperback, 32 pages, full color. (1995 BWD Press, P.O. Box 110,
Marietta, OH 45750. 800-879-2473.)
"Bird Watching for Dummies,"
by Bill Thompson, III. Paperback, 384 pages, full color. (1997 IDG
Books Worldwide, 919 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Suite 400 Foster City,
CA 94404. www.dummies.com)
"Backyard Bird News,"
(bimonthly newsletter), P.O. Box 110, Marietta, OH 45750. 800- 879-2473.
For answers to frequently
asked questions and links to informative feeding-related websites,
For information on
participating in surveys on bird feeding and other bird-related
topics, visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at: