Clean bird feeders now to prevent spreading disease - The Buffalo News

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Clean bird feeders now to prevent spreading disease

Spring arrives officially on Thursday, but for folks who maintain bird feeders it is time to do some early spring cleaning right now.

One national group suggests pulling feeders March 1 in areas that bears inhabit. Around here, bears may or may not be out feeding, but infectious bacteria have been gaining their fill in bird feeders this winter.

Department of Environmental Conservation studies in January and February confirmed that common redpolls had contracted Salmonella infection in 13 counties statewide. Salmonellosis, commonly referred to as “songbird fever,” can affect many other bird species, such as cardinals, goldfinches, sparrows, cowbirds and pine siskins.

At this time of year, thawing and refreezing temperatures can leave a heavy residue at the bottom of bird feeders. Tubular models often continue to dispense damp, tainted seeds while the upper ports remain clean and open to feeding birds.

The DEC and other conservation agencies recommend cleaning all models of bird feeders at least every two weeks with hot, soapy water. Adding a 10 percent solution of bleach to the water and allowing it to sit for a while, especially to loosen packed seeds in corners and at the base, helps to reduce harmful diseases.

After cleaning, allow the feeder to dry completely before refilling and placing it back outside.

Some bird species only feed at the feeder, other species mainly forage on the ground in search of seeds. Check on seed dispersal and look for alternate sites to hang feeders when the area shows a buildup of waste on the ground.

The DEC recommends reporting multiple sick or dead birds in the area of bird feeders. If these sightings occur, report those findings to the nearest DEC regional office. To locate the nearest office, go to

For more helpful information about bird feeder setup and maintenance, the Cornell Laboratory or Ornithology has a Project Feeder Watch online. To view these helpful tips, go to


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