How To Properly Clean Up Your Bird Feeder

One problem with feeding birds in our backyards is that feeders attract many different types of birds. Some of these birds are unlikely to come in close contact with nature, but they do so as they come to enjoy the food we put out for them.

Birds interact, rub against each other and the feeder, and saliva and even their droppings end up on various parts of the feeder. As one species of bird leaves the feeder after eating, another type shows up, and so on.  

Inside the feeder, food that sits on the bottom can grow fungus and bacteria growth, particularly if it gets moist. 

This article shows how to properly clean up bird feeders to diminish the likelihood of spreading bird diseases and ensure that the backyard birds we enjoy stay healthy.

How often should I clean my feeder?

As someone who feeds birds in my backyard, it is my responsibility to keep my feeders clean to protect the birds that I love by cleaning them up as often as it is necessary. 

The frequency at which we should clean our feeders varies depending on a few factors. 

  1. If only a few birds visit your feeder and the weather is relatively dry, cleaning your feeders every two weeks to a month would keep your birds safe.
  2. If you have heavy bird traffic, if you have wet weather that could have gotten into the feeder, clean up your feeder every two weeks or less.
  3. If you observe a sick bird on your feeders, clean up your feeders immediately and monitor the situation. You may need to stop feeding birds to prevent more birds from using the feeder that the sick bird uses and possibly spreading the disease.
  4. Suppose salmonella, trichomoniasis, or any other bird disease has been reported in your area. In that case, it is recommended to remove your feeders, clean them up, and stop feeding birds for at least two weeks as you monitor the situation. 

How to clean up your bird feeder

The recommended materials include:

  1. A pair of dish gloves
  2. A bottle brush
  3. An old toothbrush
  4. Large buckets
  5. Dish soap and bleach
  6. Work clothes (bleach solution may splash and ruin good clothes)

The following instructions may vary according to the type of feeder you have, but all steps are similar:

  1. Take the feeder apart. The steps to do so will be different depending on the type of feeder you have. If you run into a roadblock, the manufacturer should have detailed instructions on taking your feeder apart.
  2. Once you have the feeder apart, shake it to get rid of the residue inside that falls off by shaking the feeder. Ensure all the unconsumed seed at the bottom of the feeder is removed.
  3. In one bucket, prepare a solution of antibacterial soap and hot water and soak all the feeder parts for about 10 minutes. 
  4. Pick each piece from the soaking solution and brush all parts of it. Use a bottle brush for the parts that a brush like this easily gets to. Use an old toothbrush to remove the residue from tight places. Make sure you throw away that old toothbrush.
  5. Once you wash every piece of the feeder, put them into a bleach-hot water solution for another 10 minutes. Soaking the pieces for 10 minutes is long enough to kill bacteria and viruses attached to the feeder and mold and fungus that may still be in the joins and places where a brush does not reach.

    Preparing the disinfecting solution:

    Prepare the disinfecting solution by mixing one part bleach with nine parts water. This ratio says that you would use one unit of bleach to nine units of water; for instance, one cup of bleach to nine (9) cups of water. The units can be larger than a cup if you need to prepare a larger amount of the disinfecting solution.

  6. After soaking for 10 minutes (you can give it a little longer if you want), pick every piece and rinse it using a garden hose. If you can adjust the hose’s water pressure, set it on the strongest force to rinse joins where the toothbrush did not reach.
  7. After rinsing a piece, set it in a sunny place with plenty of air circulation to dry. 
  8. Give it as much time as the feeder needs to dry completely. Time may vary according to sun and air conditions. Once all pieces are dry, put them together and fill up the feeder.

Some feeders, particularly house (hopper) or platform feeders, can not be taken apart. To clean up these feeders, follow the same steps, but instead of taking the feeder apart, soak all sides of the feeder continuously for about 10 minutes or more, brushing and rinsing as you would other feeders.