Keeping Those Feeders Clean

An unusually high number of songbirds found dead near backyard bird feeders across the country this spring is a strong message for homeowners to make sure bird feeders and bird baths are kept clean.

Dr. Dan Grove, wildlife veterinarian for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said initial reports of dead songbirds – most notably pine siskins, common redpolls and gold finches – occurred in the southeastern United States in February. More recently, reports are coming from northern tier states. Salmonella has been identified as the cause of death in those birds that were sent to various labs.

“Homeowners with backyard bird feeders need to be aware of the consequences of an unclean feeder,” Grove said. “An unclean feeder can perpetuate diseases that are spread when birds congregate at artificial feeding stations.”

Salmonella is a bacteria transmitted through bird droppings. As a precaution, Grove recommends cleaning feeders weekly and removing any seed debris from the ground.

The following steps should be taken to clean a feeder: remove all seed debris and deposit in the garbage; wash with warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly; spray with a 10 percent bleach solution; leave sit for 10 minutes; rinse completely and let sun dry.

Sandra Johnson, nongame biologist for the Game and Fish Department, said that potential problems associated with artificial feeders have prompted Game and Fish to recommend focusing attention on habitat and not feeders.

“Backyard bird feeding is more responsibly accomplished by using vegetation, such as fruit bearing trees and shrubs,” Johnson said. “Habitat in the form of trees, shrubs, native grasses and wildflowers, and vines benefits birds with necessary cover and natural sources of food.”

Homeowners interested in obtaining information on how to provide backyard bird habitat should contact the Game and Fish Department at (701) 328-6300, or by e-mail at