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For the birds, keep feeders clean

October 12th, 2013 2:00 pm by Marci Gore

For the birds, keep feeders clean

Rack Cross, project manager of the Kingsport Birding Trails. Photo by David Grace.

If you’re not already feeding your backyard birds, Rack Cross, project manager for the Kingsport Birding Trail, says now is a good time to start.

“Fall migration is under way, and these birds have got an arduous journey ahead of them,” Cross said. “Migration, especially fall migration, is a time that natural food sources may begin to expire and be harder for the birds to find. As they migrate south in the fall, that’s a good time to fortify their diets with seed that you put in your feeders. Many of them will do just fine, but some others won’t and perhaps having a feeding station can make the difference in their survival or not.”

But, Cross adds, if you are going to provide feeders for the birds, there are some things you should keep in mind to ensure the health of your avian visitors.

“In taking care of your bird feeder, common sense goes a long way. One of the things people need to be cautioned about is to not let the seed get wet and become moldy,” he said. “Most of the common designs of bird feeders are really good at keeping moisture out, but after a heavy rain, it’s worth checking on the seed.”

Zellie Earnest is a member of Kingsport’s Greenbelt Advisory Council and a local bird enthusiast and says it is important to regularly keep check on the bottoms of your bird feeders.

“Most bird feeders are exposed to rain, cold, wind, water and, if you don’t clean them fairly frequently, water will tend to cause all kinds of things to happen with the bird seed and ‘chunks’ will form in the bottom,” he said. “If you start having these chunks that you can’t get out of the bottom of your feeder, you’ve waited too long to clean it."

According to Tennessee’s Watchable Wildlife’s website, feeder maintenance is important in preventing the spread of disease between birds, including Trichomoniasis, avian pox, Salmonellosis, Aspergillosis and avian conjunctivitis.

Symptoms of diseased birds may include birds that are less alert or active. They may have swollen eyes or growths or sores on the mouth or bill.

Experts suggest the following to protect birds’ health:

• Cleaning bird baths and feeders in a one part bleach-nine parts water solution one to two times per month. If you are experiencing a disease outbreak, clean your feeders twice as often and consider removing the feeders for several days.

• Change bird bath water daily. Brush or wipe it clean, rinse and refill.

• Discard old seed in your feeder when you clean the feeder. Also sweep up leftover seed on the ground under feeders to reduce chances of transmission of the Trichomonad protozoan.

• If possible, provide more than one feeder to reduce overcrowding, which increases the chances of disease transmission.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also recommends to clean the ground below your feeders, too, to prevent a build-up of hulls, uneaten seeds and other waste. Moldy or spoiled food is unhealthy both for birds and for your outside pets. And bird food scattered on the ground can attract unwanted rodents. Also, make sure your feeders have no sharp edges to scratch birds.

Cross also says when hanging bird feeders keep your windows in mind.

“Sometimes we don’t think about where it is we locate our bird feeders. Of course, we want them to be visible so we can watch the birds while they feed, but the most common cause of accidental deaths to birds is window strikes,” he said. “So, if we don’t have the bird feeder well-located around the house, we could be inducing an accidental window strike.”

Cross recommends placing the feeder close to a window so if a startled bird flies from the feeder to the window, it wouldn’t have generated enough speed to cause a fatal crash. He also suggests marking windows with decals or Mylar streamers.

“This gives the bird an indication it doesn’t want to fly in that direction,” he said. “And some people go so far as to stretch netting across their windows so that the bird would encounter the net rather than the hard window.”

Cross also says if you start feeding your backyard birds, keep it up.

“If a young family of birds becomes accustomed to a bird feeder as a feeding source, they’re going to have to expend some unplanned-for energy to find food if you take that away from them,” he said.

For more information about feeding and attracting birds, visit

For more information on the Kingsport Birding Trail, which was just recently recognized by Tennessee State Representative Jon Lundberg as the first birding trail in the state, visit

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