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A woman dressed in warm clothes in a field with tall grass looks through binoculars.
Information icon Service biologist Sue Cameron searches for birds. Photo by Gary Peeples, USFWS.

Backyard Habitat: Birds

Using bird feeders

While feeders serve as great focal points to observe our avian neighbors, they can also become homes for disease. These 8 steps will help keep your feeder safe for birds:

  1. Give them space: Avoid crowding by providing ample feeder space.
  2. Clean up around the feeder: Sweep around the feeder frequently to keep it clean of waste food and droppings.
  3. Avoid feeders with sharp points or edges: Causing even a small scratch on a bird can lead to infection.
  4. Clean your feeder at least once per month: Use one part of liquid chlorine household bleach in nine parts of warm water to disinfect. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, rinsed feeder completely for two to three minutes. Allow to air dry.
  5. Use good food: Discard food that smells musty, is wet, or has something growing on it. Disinfect any storage container that held spoiled food and the scoop used to fill feeders.
  6. Prevent contamination: Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.
  7. Act early: Don’t wait to act until you see sick or dead birds. With good prevention you’ll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders.
  8. Share the knowledge: Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds are likely move among feeders in a neighborhood, and disease can spread as they go.

For more information concerning avian diseases, visit the USGS, National Wildlife Health Center site.

Feeding hummingbirds

Four parts water to one part sugar (a 4:1 ratio) has been shown to be the closest to the sucrose content of natural flower nectar. Concentrations stronger than this (3:1 ratio, and stronger) are readily consumed by “hummers”, but no scientific evidence exists regarding the potential helpful or harmful effects on them. Do not use molasses or honey as they are harmful to the birds.

There is no need to add red dye to the solution because the birds are attracted to the color on the feeder such as bright red feeder parts or a red ribbon. During the hotter months of summer, be sure to clean your feeders frequently to kill harmful fungus. A cleaning solution of 1 part bleach and 9 parts of water works best.

Window collisions

Awnings, eave extensions, and window screens will eliminate all reflection and stop the collision problem. Silhouettes of flying hawks or falcons do work, but they perform best when applied outside the glass. Hanging ornaments such as wind chimes, wind socks, and potted plants also help. Misting the outside of the window with a very weak detergent or soda solution will eliminate the reflection but will also impair visibility for you.

Cat predation

Nature, a scientific publication, estimates that free-ranging domesticated cats kill 1.3 - 4.0 billion birds and 6.3 - 22.3 billion mammals every year. This rate of predation is much greater than previously thought and is likely the single greatest source of man-made cause of death for birds and mammals in the United States. Make sure to position your backyard bird feeder away from bushes and tall grass where cats like to hide, which will prevent your bird feeder from becoming a buffet for neighborhood cats.

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