Thursday, September 14, 2023

Cleaning Birdhouses, Feeders and Baths

Birdhouse Collection of Different Heights

How to Clean Birdhouses, Birdbaths and Bird Feeders

One of my favorite parts of being out in the garden is listening to the sounds of nature, especially the chirping of birds. The last thing I want to do is make them sick by not giving my feathered visitors clean birdhouses, feeders and watering holes.

The four common diseases that are easily spread from one bird to another are Avian Pox, Salmonellosis, Trichomoniasis, and Aspergillosis. Birds with these diseases are more likely to die from starvation, predation and severe weather. 

You can't count on the winter cold to kill off harmful bacteria. Proof of this is the fact that bird diseases peak in January and February according to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Follow these tips to keep your birdhouses, feeders, and birdbaths clean and disease-free and your visiting birds healthy.

These are the birdhouses I have.  They are well built and have easy cleanouts.

Birdhouse Care

Dirty birdhouses can spread diseases to nesting birds and their hatchlings. Aside from the bacteria that builds up, leftovers from rodents or insects may be present. Make your birdhouse more attractive and safe for your feathery visitors with these cleaning and maintenance tips.

And let's face it.  You can't go wrong by buying a birdhouse from Audubon.

When to Clean and Sanitize Birdhouses

  • Each time a new family moves out.

  • Before winter sets in, clean and set out so they're ready to invite early spring birds.
  • For most species, one cleaning after the end of the breeding season is sufficient.

How to Clean Birdhouses Properly

  • Take apart where possible and sweep out thoroughly, including the old nesting material.
  • Inspect the birdhouse for loose nails or any poking objects to harm birds or your hands.
  • Wearing rubber gloves, scrub the birdhouse inside and old with a stiff brush and a toothbrush and a solution of 90% water and 10% bleach.
  • Thoroughly rinse until there is only a faint smell of bleach.
  • If a strong bleach smell persists, lightly scrub with soap and water and rinse thoroughly again.
  • Let dry in the sun for several hours to prevent the growth of mildew and mold before rehanging.

Suet Feeder

Bird Feeder Care

When to Clean Bird Feeders

To keep your bird feeders disease free, the three most important times to disinfect the bird feeders are the beginning of spring, the end of summer and the beginning of winter. If you have several feeders, you can create a rotation schedule so that one is cleaned, disinfected and dried every other week. If you have a garden calendar, add these items to your schedule as it is easy to forget during the busy garden season.

Birdfeeder with two bird visitors

How to Clean and Sanitize Bird Feeders

  • Dispose of all seeds.
  • Take the feeder apart into as many pieces as possible.
  • For plastic, metal and ceramic feeders, rinse the feeder well with soapy water, then dunk it into a bleach-water solution in nine-to-one water to bleach ratio.  
  • On a wood feeder, a solution of diluted vinegar (three-to-one) or non-fragranced biodegradable soap will minimize fading.  
  • Dry out the feeder before hanging it back up. Double the frequency of cleaning if you suspect disease a-lurking.

  • Use a stiff brush to scrub both the inside and outside of the feeder, cleaning feeding ports, perches, lids, etc. An old toothbrush works well to get into the nooks and crannies.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • If a strong bleach smell persists, lightly scrub with soap and water and rinse thoroughly again.
  • Let dry in the sun for several hours to prevent the growth of mildew and mold. Reassemble and hang for the next set of visitors.

Bird feeder with red roof and seeds


Other Tips

  • Clean up under the feeding areas often so as not to attract unwanted rodents.
  • Move feeders periodically to reduce the accumulation of waste.
  • If you notice your birdhouse getting crowded with visitors, place another other next door or spread out the ones you have. Crowded birdhouses are a breeding ground for disease.
  • Purchase good quality birdhouses that are specially built for easy cleaning with slide-out or pull-out bottoms or hinges.
  • Store seed in a cool, dry place to keep fresh longer.
  • Supply only fresh food. Optimally only put out as much feed as you think the birds will eat in one or two days. Old seed, especially when wet, will promote the growth of bacteria.
  • Leave hanging during the winter for the shelter of non-migratory birds.

  • Purchase no-waste seed mixes that contain hulled seeds.

Birdbath Care

Cleaning Birdbaths

We all know that stagnant water carry diseases that can spread quickly from one bird to the whole flock. Not only that, but it's also a great breeding ground for mosquitoes. Those stubborn stains in the birdbath are often caused by chemicals in the rain, tap water, and organic debris.

How to Clean Birdbaths

  • Dump out the old water.
  • Unless your birdbath has delicate features, you can pressure rinse it to remove all the loose debris.
  • For a standard size birdbath, add a cup or so of bleach to the water and mix it in to kill any algae.
  • Cover the birdbath with plastic to keep the birds out of it while the solution does its job. Let the solution soak for a minimum of ten minutes to half an hour, depending on the number of stains.
  • Check the cleanliness after that time and continue to soak if the stains remain.
  • For the stubborn parts, scrub with a stiff brush.
  • Rinse thoroughly for 2-3 minutes with as much water pressure as your birdbath can safely take.
  • Take extra care to rinse the nooks and crannies.
  • You'll know when the birdbath is well rinsed if there is only a slight odor of the bleach.
  • Empty the solution and allow the birdbath to dry completely in the sun to sterilize the surface against bacteria.
  • Refill with fresh, clean water and watch the birds enjoy a drink or a bath.

Natural bird nest with three Robin's blue eggs


Following these tips you'll keep your feathered friends fed, happy and healthy!


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