Bird Feeder Hygiene

There’s been a fair bit of coverage in the media this week about a study showing the risks of disease to garden birds associated with feeding them, and indeed the BBC did a piece on the subject on its breakfast show on Monday. Having discussed the study and its implications with our official bird food partner, Vine House Farm, this is a summary of their expert opinion and guidance on the subject . . .

So first things first: the study – which was led by scientists from international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) – does not state that people should stop feeding the birds in their gardens, and indeed it makes clear that there are many benefits to doing so. However and as Vine House Farm have long been saying, it is absolutely essential that people take simple, practical measures to minimise the risk to the birds they love.

Vine House Farm have a long-standing section on their information pages about hygiene and with an outline of some of the more common diseases and how to help prevent garden birds contracting them, but as a brief summary here are four main points to take note of:

  • Keeping all types of feeder clean – be they hanging tube feeders, mesh feeders, bird tables or ground tables – is absolutely essential. They sell a range of feeder hygiene products to help you. Ideally, you should aim to clean feeders once per week, but if this isn’t practical then keep a supply of clean feeders so you can change them over each week, then clean a batch all at once. Using their Ring Pull and Onyx feeders will also help you, as they’re designed to come apart easily and quickly for cleaning.
  • Move feeders around in your garden so the ground below them doesn’t become contaminated.
  • If you feed seed products that don’t have the husk removed – e.g. black sunflower seeds – then ensure that the waste husks are all removed and disposed of. This is an especially important element of bird feeding hygiene, as waste husks can quickly develop dangerous levels of bacteria.
  • If you’re pushed for time to clear up waste, then go for husk-free products such as sunflower hearts and Won’t Grow Mix .

Returning to the point about why it’s so important to keep feeding the birds in your garden, the fact is that much of our landscape has been stripped of natural food for birds though intensive farming and development. Indeed, other research shows that insect numbers have dropped by a staggering 45% in the last 35 years.

As a great example of how feeding the birds in your garden can help their populations, Goldfinch numbers increased by 78% over ten years up to 2010, with the BTO citing the increased availability of sunflower hearts and niger seed in peoples’ gardens as the main reason.

So please keep feeding the birds in your garden as the benefits far outweigh the negatives, but equally please do everything possible to ensure they remain in healthy condition.