Tips for cleaning bird feeders, baths and houses

July 28, 2015

Just as our bathtubs, kitchens and houses need constant attention to keep them clean, so do the spots we set up for our feathered friends. Keep birdbaths, feeders and houses free of fungi, algae and bacteria, and those birds will keep returning, time and time again. All that's required here is a bit of elbow grease, a scrubbing brush and an old toothbrush.

Tips for cleaning bird feeders, baths and houses

1. Clean a birdbath

  • This should be done once a week during warmer weather — the busy season for birds of a feather to flock together in the sun-warmed bath you provide.
  • Remember that birdbaths with stale standing water can turn into fertile breeding grounds for mosquito larvae, so dumping old water and cleaning out birdbaths is imperative.
  • Use a scrubbing brush with stiff bristles and warm water to scrub out the birdbath.
  • If the bath has a telltale ring from algae or other deposits or feels slimy to the touch, it's time to get aggressive. Mix a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water in a clean bucket and use that to scrub the bath.
  • Make sure you wear rubber gloves to protect your hands. (If you don't like the notion of using bleach, mix equal parts of white vinegar and water, then scrub.)
  • Rinse well with fresh water and then allow to air dry.

2. Clean bird feeders

  • This should be done every two weeks year-round. This is because birdseed and other bird food get damp and mouldy in humid conditions, and the birds feeding at your trough could get sick.
  • Take apart your wooden feeder, if you can.
  • Dust off the pieces with a wire brush, then scrub with warm water and a stiff-bristled scrubbing brush.
  • If the feeder is really dirty, wear rubber gloves and mix 1 part bleach to 10 parts water in a clean bucket.
  • Vigorously scrub inside and out.
  • Rinse thoroughly and then dry.
  • For plastic or metal feeders, brush them out, then rinse with warm water and dry with a soft cloth. Or, let them dry in the sun.

3. Clean a bird house

  • Do this job during cold weather, when birds aren't feathering their nests inside.
  • If the bird house has a removable side or top panel, take it off and dip the pieces into a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
  • Using an old toothbrush, dig into the cracks and crevices — this is where feather mites, which feed on bird feathers, often lurk. You don't want these pests infesting the next generation to take up residence in your bird house.
  • To guard against mites, as well as fleas, flies, larvae and lice, use a 1 per cent rotenone powder or pyrethrin spray (available from hardware stores), or an aviary dusting powder or spray (available from pet stores).

4. Use bleach not soap

  • Birds don't take kindly to the residue that soap can leave behind in a birdbath, feeder or house, so reach for the bleach instead.
  • Using bleach to clean a bird house won't harm birds, as long as you use it in a weak concentration.
  • Bleach also breaks down quickly in the environment, so there's no danger of causing long-term damage.
  • The only risk is that it can sometimes whiten a wooden bird feeder or house. So don't soak them in a bleach solution.
  • Instead, rinse thoroughly and swiftly, then dry.
  • And avoid treating wooden bird houses and feeders with any sort of wood preservative that contains petroleum distillates. The strong fumes they emit could harm birds.
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