Tips for a Healthy Feeding Station
Give your seed feeders (especially thistle and tube feeders) a shake before you
refill them, to dislodge any compacted seed. Dump out any wet clumps of old seed.
Clean all hulls off platform feeders and out of seed trays daily.
Keep some old spatulas and brushes handy by the feeding station for cleaning
Disinfect feeders by scrubbing with a weak bleach solution (1/4 cup of bleach to
2 gallons of warm water) every few weeks, oftener in summer or rainy periods. Rinse and
allow feeders to dry before refilling.
Wash your hands thoroughly after filling or cleaning your feeders.
Move your feeding station when the ground beneath it becomes covered with seed
hulls and droppings. Rake the old site to remove hulls and to give the grass a chance to
Store your seed in a clean, dry, air-tight container, such as a metal or plastic
Don't allow large amounts of seed to become wet, as on platform feeders.
Instead, when it's wet outside, feed primarily from covered feeders that will keep seed
dry, or put out only a handful of seed at a time on platforms.
Don't put hulled sunflower hearts (or bits) out where wet weather can cause them
to spoil. Offer them in a tube or hopper feeder.
Don't put out any more seed than can be eaten by the birds by nightfall,
especially where raccoons, opossums, bears, deer, or rodents are a problem.
If you see a sick or dead bird at your feeders, halt your feeding for a few
weeks to allow the healthy birds to disperse. This lessens the possibility of disease
transmission. Remove and discard in the trash any dead birds. Report the sick birds to
your local wildlife officials, many of whom monitor wildlife health.
If you provide suet, reduce the amount you offer in hot weather. Heat can make
suet rancid and unhealthy for birds. Runny suet can also stick to birds' feathers, making
them hard to keep clean and useful. Use rendered suet or heat-resilient suet blocks that
are available commercially.
Reduce window-kills of birds by placing feeders a safe distance away. If birds
regularly strike a particular window place a screen, crop netting, or a series of branches
over or in front of the outside glass panel to break up the reflection.
Though birds may not be entirely dependent on your feeder, it's best not to
leave them totally without food if you plan to be away from home in mid-winter. Purchase
an oversized feeder with a large seed capacity, or ask a willing neighbor to continue
feeding your birds.
Don't discontinue feeding as soon as the grass greens and the weather warms in
spring. Many birds will continue coming to your feeders all summer long.
Don't use grease, oil, petroleum jelly, or similar substances on your feeder
poles or wires to thwart squirrels, ants, or other feeder-raiding creatures. If these
substances come into contact with bird feathers they are impossible for the bird to preen
or wash out. Gooey feathers can become useless for flight or insulation, thus putting the
birds at risk to predators, extreme weather, and disease. For squirrels and other mammals,
use a pole-mounted baffle (many are sold commercially). For ants, use an ant guard that
prevents ants from reaching the feeder. Both baffles and ant guards are available on the
Internet, by mail-order, or in retail stores that sell an extensive array of backyard
Tips for Better Feeding
Black-oil sunflower seed is the most widely used bird seed, popular with the
greatest number of bird species. Its thin shell and large nutmeat are ideal for most
Offer a variety of seeds and food in a variety of appropriate feeders (sunflower
seed in tube, hopper, or platform feeders, thistle in tube feeders, peanuts in peanut
feeders, suet in suet cages, and mixed seed on platform feeders or scattered on dry
Offer the thick-shelled gray-striped sunflower seed to cardinals, grosbeaks,
jays, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches.
Offer safflower seed to cardinals. Squirrels and blackbirds in many parts of the
continent do not like it.
If your feeder is overrun with blackbirds, pigeons, or house sparrows, stop
offering mixed seed on the ground or on platform feeders. Feed only black-oil sunflower
seed in tube or hopper feeders until the problem species disperse.
Don't offer so-called wild bird mixes in tube feeders. These are better fed on
platforms or out of hopper feeders. Birds which prefer sunflower seed will just empty the
feeder to get at the sunflower seeds.
Make a brushpile near your feeder to make sparrows, towhees, and other shy birds
feel more at home, but be sure it won't harbor roaming cats.
Add natural features to your feeding station, such as branches to perch on, to
make birds feel more at ease.
Hummingbird Feeding Tips
Don't use hummingbird feeders that are difficult to clean, or have many small
Do wash your hummingbird feeders thoroughly with hot, soapy water, and rinse
completely, every time you refill them.
Don't allow molds or yeasts to grow in your hummingbird feeders. When these
appear, empty and scrub feeders immediately.
When making hummingbird nectar, blend water and white table sugar in a 4 to 1
ratio (4 parts water to 1 part sugar). Add the sugar to boiling water. Bring the mixture
to a boil again while stirring to dissolve the sugar, then let cool.
Don't use insecticides, such as wasp killers, anywhere near bird feeders,
especially hummingbird feeders.
Don't use anything but white, granulated table sugar. No powdered or brown
sugar, honey, molasses, red-food coloring, artificial sweeteners or nutrients should be
Tips for a Healthy Bird Bath
Don't situate bird baths under feeders or perches, where droppings can fall into
Rinse and scrub birdbaths daily in summer, or whenever they become fouled with
bird droppings. Once a month, scrub out with a light bleach solution (1/4 cup of bleach in
2 gallons of water), rinse thoroughly and refill.
"The Problem with Bird Feeding," Eirik A. T. Blom, September/October
Bird Watcher's Digest, pp. 88-95.
Enjoying Bird Feeding More by Julie Zickefoose. Paperback, 32 pages, full color.
(©1995 BWD Press, P.O. Box 110, Marietta, OH 45750. 800-879-2473.)
An Identification Guide to Common Backyard Birds by Bill Thompson, III and Eirik
A.T. Blom. Paperback, 32 pages, full color. (©1995 BWD Press, P.O. Box 110, Marietta, OH
Bird Watching For Dummies by Bill Thompson, III. Paperback, 384 pages, full
(© 1997 IDG Books Worldwide, 919 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Suite 400, Foster City, CA 94404.
Backyard Bird News, P.O. Box 110, Marietta, OH 45750. 800-879-2473.
For answers to frequently asked questions and links to informative
feeding-related websites, visit
For information on participating in surveys on bird feeding and other
bird-related topics, visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at:
©1999 BWD Press
This article was reprinted with permission from:
Bird Watcher's Digest Press
PO Box 110 Marietta, OH 45750