Pine-Siskin-Feeder-Emily-Carter-Mitchell-640x480
Two pine siskins and one American goldfinch on a bird feeder.

Salmonellosis outbreaks among birds have been making headlines in Idaho and neighboring states, which highlights the importance of keeping bird feeders and feeding sites clean to prevent the spread of diseases. If you want to set-up your bird feeders for spring, Idaho Fish and Game says go for it — just keep these tips in mind to help protect your fine-feathered friends.

— Before putting up your feeders, clean them with warm soapy water and then dunk/rinse them with a 10% bleach solution. Rinse and dry them well before adding food. This process will disinfect your feeders and reduce the spread of salmonellosis, respiratory infections, eye ailments, and other diseases among birds. To avoid spreading salmonella bacteria to humans, wear rubber gloves while cleaning/handling bird feeders, and immediately afterward wash hands with soap and water, hand sanitizer, or alcohol wipes.

— Use this sanitization method to clean your feeders (and even bird baths) at least once every two weeks. While the design of hummingbird feeders makes them a much lower risk for salmonella transmission, these feeders also require regular cleaning. 

American goldfinch
A female American goldfinch with what appears to be symptoms of salmonellosis in the Magic Valley in March.

— Remove old, uneaten feed and seed casings regularly—even every few days depending on the feeder and condition of the food. Food that is old or wet can become spoiled or moldy which can make birds sick.

— Distribute food among multiple feeders to discourage crowding, which reduces the opportunity for sick birds to touch and contaminate each other. 

— Tidy below the feeder routinely. Rake or shovel up feces and seed casings; rinse off decks and porches. On snow-covered areas, scraping off a few layers of snow should do the trick. Accumulated food and feces can contaminate feeding areas for bird. It can also attract unwanted rodents.

— Avoid placing feeders and bird baths near bushes or structures that can hide lurking predators like house cats, dogs, and even wild animals.

— Bird feeders and bird food kept on decks and porches may attract nocturnal critters like raccoons and skunks. If this is an issue, store the feed (and possibly the feeders themselves) indoors at night when these animals are the most active. If you have bears in your area, you may even consider leaving feeders down as they can attract hungry bears coming out of hibernation.

— If you suspect you have sick birds visiting your feeder, remove the feeder for at least two weeks and clean the feeder thoroughly using the soapy water/bleaching process described above before putting it back out.

Keep in mind, sick birds can display a variety of symptoms, or none at all, depending on the disease. Birds that are lethargic, emaciated, easy to approach, have visible crustiness in their eyes, or other questionable behavior/appearance could be experiencing some kind of illness. If you see what you suspect is a sick bird, don’t try to treat it yourself. Call your nearest regional Fish and Game office.