Bird feeder hygiene often overlooked

Daily clean ...Wildlife Hospital nurse Angelina Martelli replacing a bottle in a birdfeeder after cleaning it. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Wild Life column by Wildlife Hospital Trust manager Jordana Whyte.

As of late, world events have really hit home the importance of good hygiene when it comes to the prevention of spreading disease.

No doubt you have a favourite 20-second song you sing to help get you through your proper hand-washing routine at this point.

You may want to add another song to your repertoire this winter – this one to help remind you to give your bird feeders a daily clean, too.

Supplementary feeding is a very common practice in New Zealand, with as many as 46% of households providing some kind of extra food source for birds, according to one University of Auckland study.

If carried out mindfully, with a predator-safe set-up and appropriate food, supplementary feeding of birds can be a source of support for native species and a source of joy for humans.

However, hygiene at bird feeders is an often overlooked but incredibly important component to helping native bird populations survive and thrive in our backyards and beyond.

For the safety of our native birds, as well as your own, it is recommended that bird feeding stations be cleaned daily where possible. There are a number of avian diseases, including a highly contagious pox virus, that can quickly spread among the bird population from congregational areas such as bird feeders.

“Anywhere where birds gather closely, especially around food sources, means there’s a higher concentration of bird droppings,” Hospital veterinarian Dr Lizzie Thomas said.

“Those droppings can be a source of disease spread amongst the birds.

“Some diseases like salmonella, can also be spread from birds to humans,” Dr Thomas said.

“But the good news is that it is easily preventable.”

A quick daily scrub of feeding dishes with hot, soapy water will help remove any droppings, or any traces of mould that may form as a result of food being spread around the feeder. Using a dedicated brush for the outdoor components of your feeding station, such as stands or perches, is also advised, and will help reduce any cross-contamination.

Daily clean-ups also help keep an eye on the food you’re providing to ensure there’s good turnover.

“Cut-up fresh fruits, like apples, pears and oranges, attract native species like bellbirds, tui and silvereye, Dr Thomas said.

“You want to be checking the fruit you put out daily to make sure it’s not getting mouldy or being spread around the ground too much by the birds, which could attract rodents.”

“I can’t sing so I use the time to practise my tui calls,” Dr Thomas said.