Updated: Jun 19
Songbirds are coming... they are coming...
Woo hoo! They are coming! While we are all sad to see summer go, songbird surges are on the horizon. Which means it is time to hang, clean, and/or fill your feeders!
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If you are like this Flocking author, you put away the good seed, the suet, and the hummingbird feeders after the first week of June. Why? At my low elevation (and developed neighborhood), I only get House Sparrows and European Starlings in summer. However, I know new feathered friends will be arriving at my windows soon, tapping on the glass to notify me of their return. And because I want to give them every chance at survival, I clean all of my bird feeders. Here is the HOW and the WHY:
How to Clean Seed Feeders
Seed feeders are often very simplistic in nature; possibly just a platform, or a cylinder with a few seed ports. You should be able to clean these quite easily, with a time to completion, for a single feeder, being less than 10 minutes. If you have multiple feeders, try cleaning them in waves, using a staggered cleaning schedule. Most seed feeders require cleaning every 2-3 weeks (unless you have seen a sick bird). Also, make sure to clean away the hulls and poop below your feeder!
To clean your bird feeder:
Take the bird feeder apart (if possible). While leaving it together may make the work go faster, bacteria, viruses, and mold all love the nooks and crannies. If you cannot take it apart, soaking the feeder will likely become necessary.
Clean your prep area. This often forgotten step can be critical! Many people might clean their feeders in their kitchen. If you do this, make sure to disinfect this area BEFORE cleaning. Why? You have likely had raw meats, including chicken, where you are about to clean your feeder.
Clean your bird feeder using a dishwasher on hot, or clean by hand with hot, soapy water. Boiling water is recommended for the hand-cleaning method. If you use your dishwasher, ensure your feeder can be put in the dishwasher before doing so, and DO NOT wash it with your normal dishes.
Soak the feeder in a dilute bleach solution. This may not be practical or possible for some, but if you can soak your feeder, YOU SHOULD! Create your dilution with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. You can also use a vinegar solution of 1 part vinegar and 3 parts water to soak the feeder.
Allow the feeder to dry. Many will forget this step. Wiping it down with a towel can leave more bacteria on the feeder, especially if the towel is not clean. Also, a towel will not get all moisture off the feeder, only allowing for new bacteria to get a foothold. Let the feeder air dry completely. (Do not use a hairdryer, trust me, it will melt your feeder.)
Check your bird food! Forgot this one? Make sure your bag of bird food is mold free! You just put all that effort into cleaning your feeder, don't contaminate it with cruddy food.
Fill your bird feeder and enjoy the birds!
How to Clean Hummingbird Feeders
Hummingbird feeders can be slightly more difficult to clean. The sticky nature of sugar water increases the amount of effort required. The payoff though, remarkable. Those flying gems make all the scrubbing seem less dreary. Replace your hummingbird food every 3-5 days to prevent mold. If you are in a hot climate, you may have to replace it more frequently. If you are tired of wasting hummingbird food, fill only as much as needed. Clean your hummingbird feeder every 7-10 days.
To clean your hummingbird feeder:
Take the hummingbird feeder apart.
Clean your prep area.
Clean your hummingbird feeder with hot water and a bottle brush. DO NOT use soap or other chemicals. Residue may be detrimental to hummers. I use a kit with a variety of brushes, like this one from Amazon.
Soak the feeder in a dilute bleach solution. This is not always necessary, but if you are having mold problems, give it a try.
Rinse thoroughly! Give the feeder several rinses to ensure no solution is left.
Dry the feeder completely. The bottles can be difficult to dry, but do your best to let them drip/air dry.
Fill your hummingbird feeder with room-temperature food and enjoy those hummingbirds!
Why is Cleaning Bird Feeders Important?
Bird diseases are typically fatal for our avian eye-candy. The most common diseases found in feeder birds are:
Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis (often called House Finch eye disease, though other finches can suffer from it)
Salmonellosis (caused by salmonella bacteria - clean your prep area!)
Aspergillosis (respiratory disease caused by a fungus/fungi)
While these diseases are all major problems for birds, humans can help to prevent the spread of many of these diseases. Cleaning feeders frequently and watching for infected birds are two of the most important steps you can take to preventing the spread of these diseases. If you see a sick bird, quarantine everything it has been in contact with and disinfect all areas. You can also contact a bird rehabilitation center, and a list of those for each state can be found here.
Now, go enjoy your feeders! And if you need recommendations on the best feeders, read our post on this topic!