Keep feeders clean to help backyard birds stay healthy

January 11, 2009|By JOE LAMP'L / DIY Network

I so enjoy watching the many birds that visit my backyard feeders. I wanted to know how to attract more birds and keep them safer, should they choose to hang around through winter.

To answer these burning questions, I interviewed Stephen Kress, vice president for bird conservation at the National Audubon Society. Considering his long list of credentials, including writing many books on backyard birding, I knew I was in good hands. I found the information he provided so helpful, I've written this article around what he had to say regarding attracting and protecting birds in winter and beyond. Here's a summary of our conversation:

Feeders aren't for birds:

You might be surprised to know that, for the most part, all those backyard bird feeders we so diligently stock throughout the year are doing more for us than the birds. For them, feeders really only serve as a supplement to their primary diet of natural foods, such as insects, seeds and fruit. It's a myth that birds depend on a continuously stocked feeder through winter for their survival. Birds are such mobile creatures; they can get what they need from a number of other sources. Only in extreme weather do feeders become an important food source."


Feeder location is very important:

It's estimated that 1 billion birds die each year from window strikes. Startled birds will often fly up and smack into a nearby window. If your feeder is going to be near the house, it should be within 3 feet. This way, if a bird is spooked, it typically has not built up enough momentum to cause serious harm. The danger zone, according to Kress, is between 3 and 30 feet.

Keep birdseed and food fresh:

It's important to make sure the food in feeders is fresh. Seed and other food can become spoiled and develop mold rather quickly.

Keep feeders clean, too:

Over the course of a season, birdfeeders can form mold on the bottom and can foster bacteria and other potentially harmful pests. A stiff brush works well to clean them out periodically.

Create natural habitats:

One of the most important things we can do to attract and protect birds in our backyards is to create natural landscapes. All birds need food, shelter, water, nesting sites and perches. We can provide those needs through trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers. Native plants are best to create the most natural habitats. In fact, the more complex your habitat is through layers, depth and mixed groundcovers, the more birds you're going to attract to your landscape.

First, all that cleanup is removing precious habitat material for birds. Even more startling was his next comment: "Approximately 7 million birds die each year in people's back yards because of lawn chemicals. If we put chemicals down to kill bugs, we're really killing the birds. If we like birds, we need to create more habitats for bugs and insects, too, and the birds will help keep them in check."

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