There is a great deal of joy in watching the birds that come to your feeders. While wild birds do not need the food that is provided, they certainly enjoy it, particularly on days when the weather is poor or the ground is covered with snow or ice. There are, however, some things that you should keep in mind in order to feed the birds responsibly. Here are three things that you can do that will help put your mind at ease and allow you to feed the birds with confidence that you are doing more good than harm.
The first way to keep the birds healthy is to have fresh food available. Buy your seed at the beginning of the feeding season. Unless it has been stored very carefully, seed is likely to spoil during the hot summer months. If you are using seed that you have stored, examine it carefully to make sure that it is not molding, doesn’t smell bad, or isn’t covered in bugs. Seed that seems spoiled in any way should be disposed of in a way that prevents birds from eating it. Once you bring home your seed, store it in an airtight container to keep it safe from pests, like mice or squirrels. And, keep that container in a cool dry place, an unheated garage or mudroom probably works perfectly during the winter.
The second way to care for the birds in your yard is to clean your feeders a few times a season. Once a month you should take down all of your feeders, dismantle them, and using mild soap and water you should scrub them clean. After you’ve cleaned them, particularly if you have noticed any sick birds at your feeders, you should disinfect the feeders. You can disinfect with vinegar or with bleach. If using vinegar you should disinfect the feeders with a 50-50 water-vinegar rinse. If you are using bleach, use a 9-1 solution that is 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Then, allow the feeders to dry completely before you refill them with fresh seed and hang them back out for the birds.
Finally, keep your yard tidy. A few times a season, you should rake up seed droppings from under your feeders and dispose of them. This is especially important if you have seen sick birds at your feeders, you do not want healthy ground foragers to come in contact with their droppings. But, it is beneficial to your ground foragers, even if you only have healthy birds, and it is better for the soil under the feeders which can get overwhelmed by seed shells.
If you have a bird bath, your bath should be periodically emptied and scrubbed clean, just like the feeders. Make sure you locate your bird bath away from your feeders so that feeder waste and bird droppings are less likely to be in your bath.
Finally, enjoy your birds. Bird watching and feeding can feel intimidating, once you realize there is slightly more to it than setting up a feeder and watching the birds, but if you follow these guidelines you can rest assured that you are taking care of the birds that visit your yard in the best way you can.