Keeping Feeders Clean

Much like a busy restaurant needs constant cleaning to maintain sanitary conditions, so does a busy bird feeder or bird bath. Left unchecked, unclean receptacles can develop fungi and bacteria, potentially causing disease and even death of your resident songbirds.

The communal feeding and bathing by your birds allows for the easy spread fo disease. Contaminated food and droppings can cause a host of diseases and infections that can result in harmful growths and other effects on the birds.

Cleaning seed feeders

Moldy or decomposing seeds and hulls that accumulate on feeder trays can make birds sick. Bird droppings and other contaminants may also spread infectious bird diseases. Clean your feeders about once every two weeks, and more often during times of heavy use or wet weather. Wash each feeder thoroughly in hot, soapy water. If there have been reports of salmonella in your area, or if you’ve seen sick birds in your yard, after washing your feeders soak or rinse them in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water, or use vinegar (bleach can whiten wood feeders). Dry the feeders thoroughly before refilling.

Clean the ground below your feeders, too, to prevent a build-up of hulls, uneaten seeds, and other waste. Moldy or spoiled food is unhealthy both for birds and for your outside pets. And bird food scattered on the ground can attract unwanted rodents.

Make sure your feeders have no sharp edges to scratch birds.

Maintaining hummingbird feeders

Change sugar water at least every three to five days to prevent mold and deadly fermentation, and more frequently during hot weather. Clean feeders at least once a week with hot water and a bottle brush. Don’t use soap or a detergent. You can also clean hummingbird feeders by filling with a dilute bleach solution, but make sure to rinse them very thoroughly and allow them to air dry completely before refilling.

Never put oil or other sticky substances around feeding ports to deter bees; you might contaminate the nectar. If bees, wasps, or ants become a problem, try moving the feeder, or go to our Feeder Pests and Predators section for other solutions.

The BackYard Naturalist offers a line of feeder and bath cleaning tools:

Water Brush. Brush fits all garden hoses. Rinses away dirt while you scrub. Clean birdhouses, bird feeders, bird cages, pet cages, and bird baths.

Easy Grip Hummer Brush. Soft bristles get into nooks and crannies.

Tube Feeder Cleaning Brush. Has and easy-grip handle, non-scratching bristled head, and measures 23″ long.