Hi everyone! I am so happy that so many of you are enjoying my blog and site. Your comments make me smile! A lot of you have listened to my downloaded sounds the birds make, which will help you to both find and ID the birds around you! Today’s blog is about keeping our local birds safe after you invite them into your yards. They provide us with hours and hours of company and joy, so we need to give back by keeping them safe. Some of us feed our feather babies, some of us provide houses for nesting and some of us do it all! Spring cleaning should involve cleaning your bird houses when you clean your house, as well as all feeders and baths. Be sure to wear gloves, and a mask might be smart too when you are cleaning feeders and houses. Be sure to bag up all the old junk and dispose of it safely to prevent disease from spreading to other wildlife AND yourself!
Last year, there was a scare with a bird disease where many birds were dying. Everyone was asked to take down their feeders. I really missed my birds then. It turned out to be related to the 17-year cicada crop and not a contagious bird disease. However, the previous winter, Finch Eye Disease was prevalent and that IS a very contagious respiratory disease that kills mostly American Goldfinches. I had a goldfinch with it but could find no local bird rehabber-as is often the case locally. I tried to help it myself, but it died in my hands. ☹ Currently, there is a “highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1) that has reached Massachusetts. You can read about it on Facebook page (Robin’s Birds). According to Mass Audubon, the 4 diseases that are most commonly spread by birds gathering at feeders are salmonella, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis and avian pox. Overcrowding can also cause birds to spread lice and mites.
In order to stop the spread of diseases, or at least not contribute to them, we need to have enough feeding areas and keep those feeding areas clean. Mass Audubon suggests the flowing steps. (1) Clean feeders every 2 weeks by soaking them in 9 parts water/1 part bleach, rinsing very well and air drying them. I clean mine with warm Dawn and water and then rinse well and then soak etc. I follow the same routine for my bird baths. (2) We should be storing the food in air-tight containers to keep rodents out and prevent spoilage. If you have a ton of food left on the ground often, check my first blog to choose a food your birds will like better, and waste less. Some people ground feed. If you do, alternate areas and be sure to clean up shells, and leftovers.
We are all eagerly awaiting the return of our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles now! These birds require an extra step to keep them safe if you are going to feed them! You need to be sure to change and clean nectar feeders every week, or even twice a week in extreme hot temperatures. Otherwise, the sugar water ferments. I did not address feeding these birds in my first blog as it was winter. So, be sure to ONLY use a PLAIN WHITE SUGAR and water mixture. I shared another post on my Facebook page that shows a hummingbird with mold spores on her tongue that will die because someone mixed honey with the water. The typical ratio is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water for hummingbirds. They prefer this over the “ready” made red food with the dyes that are bad for them anyway.
We also need to consider the location of the feeders. Tons of birds die every year because they smash into windows. They see the trees etc. reflecting in the glass, and fly towards the “trees”. You should position feeders that are close to windows within 3 feet of the window or more than 5 feet away from it. That way, if a bird flies at it from 3 feet, it will not be going fast and there will be less of an impact. The best thing that you can do to stop the birds from crashing into your windows is to put up window decals. I have decals on all my windows that are anywhere close to feeders. I change them to match each season or holiday to enjoy them myself too. Finally, if you place feeders out in your yard, you need to consider predators. Placing your feeders about 10 feet from trees and shrubs gives your birds a safe space to hide in quickly when hawks visit. Putting the feeders closer, allows the hawks to ambush your birds as they visit your feeders. It also allows squirrels easy access-a whole other blog LOL. As for nectar feeders, try to keep them sheltered from wind so the nectar doesn’t spill and spoil or attract bees and predators.
As for birdhouses, I shared an interesting study in my resources page you can read. Opinion is mixed, but most of us clean out our bird houses. Many will do it after the breeding season is over in the fall, but you can also do it in the spring. Birds have limited resources for nesting spaces, and these natural nesting cavities are diminishing in number yearly. So, many of our birds in Western MA will use man-made houses to raise their families. There are different types of houses, opening sizes, placements etc. depending on the birds you are housing. I touched on this in my Bluebird blog, but it is too much for this blog. As a general rule, you will want to empty out your houses because old nesting material is breeding grounds for rodents, mice, mites, bacteria and more. Some birds will be more likely to move into a cleaner house. Other birds will just build new nests on top of old nests. If this happens a few times, the nest will be too close to the opening, and predators will be able to access the babies.
You should empty out all the old nesting materials and scrape off any old bird poop. Scrub the house out completely with same 9/1 cleaning solution you use for your feeders. Use a bird feeder brush or toothbrush to reach small spaces and get in crevices and corners. Rinse the house EXTRA well so no bleach residue or fumes remain to kill the birds. Dry the house thoroughly in the sun as the sunlight will break down any remaining residue in corners etc. Make sure there are no nails sticking out and that drainage holes are clear so water will not pool inside. It is best to get bird houses that open easily to clean as taking them apart is a pain to be sure! I leave my houses out year-round for birds to use a shelter during the cold winter months too.
As always, I have included some pictures of the birds and things I talked about here. The Goldfinch in the image has Finch Eye Disease. I would love to hear from you in the comments below or and see your pictures if you follow my Facebook page! Also, I appreciate you sharing my sites more than you know. I recently added a TikTok and Instagram page. You can see some videos of my outings and birds on the TikTok. I will start blogging about our spring migrants and how we can see them best next week. For now, we all need to get busy spring cleaning! Take care, Robin😊