Feeding birds seems generous and harmless. But the hobby of catering to feathered friends can be deadly if bird feeders are not kept clean.
More recent findings show the importance of keeping the area under the feeder clean, too.
The potential for sloppy feeders to spread disease is huge, considering U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service figures that 63 million Americans feed birds in their yards.
This is doubly important during spring and summer, according to the National Bird-Feeding Society. Warmer days and rain combine to encourage the growth of mold and bacteria. When this happens in seed, wild birds can end up paying the price for providing entertainment out your window.
Like people, birds get sick. And like people, when birds crowd together, germs can spread more easily.
Death by disease is part of the natural selection process. But wild songbirds tend to congregate only in one place - at backyard feeders. Equally important is the need to rinse, scrub and disinfect birdbaths.
The larger the number and variety of birds using a feeder, the more likely were instances of mortality in a recent study reported by the National Bird-Feeding Society.
This was particularly true if visitors to the feeder included species that tend to travel in flocks: mourning doves, starlings, house and tree sparrows, and goldfinches.
One factor in promoting illness is birds standing in the seeds while eating, either at a platform feeder or on the ground. The food can become contaminated with fecal matter.
After the study, researchers had these recommendations:
Keep feeders clean, disinfecting with a weak bleach solution when necessary.
Do not feed on the ground to reduce salmonella outbreaks.
Regularly clean up and dispose of seeds from the ground beneath feeders.
Store bird seed in a dry place, and do not use if it becomes moldy.
If mourning doves or pigeons are using the feeder, to reduce the risk of trichomoniasis, do not feed in summer.
If sick or dying birds appear, do not stop feeding. In fact, more feeders should be put up to spread the birds around, but at the same time to keep them from introducing problems at other nearby bird feeders.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LOOKING AFTER BIRDS To learn more about feeding, housing and caring for birds around the home, contact the National Bird-Feeding Society, P.O. Box 23, Northbrook, IL 60065-0023.
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