Animal Care

Cats & Birds

Keeping Birds Safe at Your Feeder

The Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative has published a report, “Strategies to Prevent and Control Bird-Feeder Associated Diseases and Threats.” Diseases and other bird-feeder associated threats generate a lot of public concern, so the CWHC released this report to ensure the availability of accurate information on how to reduce the risks.

Feeding of wildlife is generally discouraged as part of the overall effort to reduce human-wildlife contact, conflicts, and disease transmission. But bird feeding is considered an exception to that rule, partly due to the fact birds don’t become dependent on feeders. (Instead, birds tend to incorporate them into a ‘route’ that combines feeders and natural sources.) The removal of any particular feeder along their route thus doesn’t have the same impact as it might with wildlife who become dependent on a particular food source.

Even so, as the popularity of bird-feeding increases, with millions of households providing huge quantities of supplementary food to wild birds, it has become increasingly important to ensure that people are aware of best-practices to reduce the potential harm of their bird feeders, primarily from diseases and predators.

Recommendations

  1. Avoid the unintended consequences of feeding that result from predation or trauma.
  2. Bird-feeders need to keep an eye on the birds at their feeders and be able to recognize signs of disease to ensure prompt implementation of disease control strategies.
  3. Create circumstances that lead to reduced contact between uninfected and infected birds and/or contaminated environments by:
  4. Promoting management for bird friendly habitat to avoid the need for supplemental feed to attract or nourish birds.
  5. Ensuring proper feeding techniques and hygienic feeding practices.

Best Practices

Placement

  • Bird feeders should not be further than 3.5 meters from cover that provides a route of escape and protection to avoid predation.
  • There should be an unobstructed view around bird feeders so that foraging birds can detect any predators in the area.
  • Cover that could conceal predators attempting to mount an attack should not be near feeders.
  • Feeders at lower levels should be surrounded by brush or fencing to preclude predator access.
  • Bird feeders should be placed less than one meter or more than 10 meters away from buildings to minimize the risk of window collisions.

Food and Feeder Selection and Maintenance

  • Use the right feeders the right way. Good bird feeders are made from plastic, steel or glass (because they’re easier to clean than wood or clay). Small feeders are best because they don’t allow large numbers of birds to congregate, reducing contact rates, and they empty quickly, which prevents seeds from getting wet or spoiled. Feeders should have drainage holes to prevent water accumulating, and they should not have sharp points or edges that may cause injury. They should be covered to prevent seed from getting wet, and they should allow birds to perch away from the food to prevent fecal contamination. (That latter is also why simply spreading food on the ground is not a good idea.) Always wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly after cleaning your feeders.

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