Gardening: Clean bird feeder cuts down on diseases

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

When doing your fall cleanup, don’t overlook the bird feeders. There are a number of diseases that can be spread among birds at bird feeders, so to keep your feathered friends healthy, the folks at the Bird Watcher’s Digest tell us to clean our bird feeders once a month or put them away. More often is recommended when the traffic is heavy.

Wait until the feeders are empty before cleaning. Refilling with “used seed” that was in a dirty feeder may spread disease, so toss out any leftovers.

Begin by scraping out as much crud and old seed as possible. Do this on newspaper that can be rolled up and put in the garbage. Don’t let that yucky debris fall on the ground where the birds can find it.

Wash the feeder with dish soap and water in a bucket and rinse. Use a brush to scrub it well. To disinfect the feeder, soak it in a solution of 1 part liquid bleach to 9 parts water for 10 minutes. Then rinse it well and let it air dry. Wooden feeders will need extra time, so this job is best done in the morning.

Be sure to clean up and dispose of the seed hulls and other debris under the feeder.

A layer of mulch will make the job easier. The pros suggest moving the feeder every couple of months to prevent ground contamination.

Lots of folks feel guilty when they leave home for extended periods or due to health reasons are unable to fill their bird feeders. Not to worry, say the folks at Watching Backyard Birds. When their favorite restaurant closes, birds simply move on to another area. However, a good time to consider setting up an emergency feeding station is after an ice storm when their food may be frozen or when winter temperatures are unseasonably cold.

Timely tips: Are animals raiding your bird feeders and driving you crazy? Google baffle making plans for bird feeders to find oodles of websites with DIY solutions.

If you’re a bird lover, and who isn’t, you’ll want a subscription to the Watching Backyard Birds magazine (, from the publishers of Bird Watchers Digest, North America’s only print magazine devoted exclusively to backyard birds, WBB is published 6 times a year at the bargain price of $16 and includes a free digital edition. Their interactive website features more articles, photos and an active Q and A to answer all your questions. You can even email your bird pix for identification.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at