Extension Outdoor offers safety tips for backyard bird feeders


Clean bird feeders outside with warm, soapy water and soak them in a bleach solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach for 10 minutes. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Adam T. Rohnke)

RAYMOND, Miss. (WJTV) – After an active year for disease-related wild bird deaths in the U.S., Extension Outdoor is advising people to follow safety practices when providing backyard feeders and water sources for wild birds this fall and winter.

The prevalence of the infectious diseases is often influenced by environmental stressors like weather, change in or loss of habitat, and reduced access to food and water. For example, harsh winters can reduce food and water availability for wild birds, causing them to concentrate at higher-than-normal levels at backyard feeders and water sources. Food and water can become contaminated with disease-causing organisms from their feces and spread easily among local bird populations.

This is what led to a salmonella outbreak among songbirds and 19 humans earlier this year across eight states. Humans contracted it through contact with contaminated bird feeders, dead birds or pets that had access to areas frequented by birds. One human case was confirmed in Mississippi. No bird cases were confirmed due to a lack of funding for surveillance.

The guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting bird feeders and water sources for wild birds are as follows:

  • Clean bird feeders outside with warm, soapy water. Rinse well. If cleaning bird feeders inside, use a bathtub, or a laundry sink, and immediately clean and disinfect it. Never use the kitchen sink or any other area where food is prepared or stored.
  • Soak bird feeders in a bleach solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach for 10 minutes.
  • Rinse well and let dry.
  • Wash your hands well after cleaning feeders.
  • The frequency of cleaning should be determined by the amount of use. If feces are present, it’s time to clean.
  • Put out only as much seed as will be consumed in a day. Discard wet seed into a garbage receptacle. Do not dump it on the ground.
  • In addition to cleaning feeders and bird baths regularly, rotate the feeder station’s locations in your yard even if birds appear healthy. If rotating is not an option, consider not feeding for two to four weeks to give these areas a rest.
  • To minimize the possibility of pets spreading salmonella to humans, the CDC recommends keeping pets away from bird feeders, bird baths and the areas underneath them.
  • People should always wash their hands with soap and water after handling bird feeders, bird baths and dead birds and after touching pets or their toys, food and bowls.

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