Bird Feeder Hygiene


 Updated January 1, 2021

Good hygiene with bird feeders and bird baths is always important, but it is especially important this winter of 2020 and 2021. This is an irruption year for Pine Siskins, which means you may notice many more of this species around your backyard and using your feeders, because there are just more of them around!

Unfortunately, there has also been an outbreak of Salmonellosis in feeder birds. Pine Siskins are particularly vulnerable to this illness, which is often (though not always) fatal to them. While taking down bird feeders entirely for the season is the most effective means of minimizing the spread of Salmonella bacteria between feeder birds, there are a few steps you can take to help protect these birds without taking feeders down.

How to keep your feeders as safe possible:

  • Take your feeders down periodically and clean then with soapy water and a 10% bleach solution, 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. After washing, soak the feeders in this solution, then rinse with cold water and dry them. If you have many birds visiting your feeder, you may want to do this as frequently as once a week or more, but less frequently is fine if you have fewer birds visiting your feeders. Having multiple feeders so that you can rotate them for cleaning more often is helpful.
    • Try to keep the feeders so clean that you would eat out of them!
  • Only use feeders made of non-porous material, such as plastic, ceramic or metal. Materials like wood are more difficult to clean.
  • Only put out enough seed in your feeders for one day at a time. When you refill feeders, dispose of any seed that is left over from previous days somewhere wildlife cannot access it.
  • Spread feeders out over a larger area to avoid birds concentrating in a small area.
  • Prevent the build-up of waste, including avian fecal matter, beneath feeders by turning over the earth beneath these feeders, or removing the top layer of ground as needed. Salmonella bacteria are spread through fecal matter, and ground-foraging birds may be exposed while eating underneath feeders.
  • Keeping bird baths clean is important for bird safety as well. Water should be changed out frequently, and most bird baths can be scrubbed with soap and water to help keep them clean.


What if I find a bird that I think is ill?

  • Ill birds will often look lethargic or fluffed up. They may not try to escape when you get near them. Some will tuck their heads under their wings at inappropriate times, such as when they are out in the open during the day and at greater risk of being caught by a predator.
  • If you find a bird that you suspect is ill, you may bring it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, but please call first to ensure they are able to take it!
    • The bird can be placed in a small box or other container with air holes. Placing a rag or piece of soft fabric at the bottom of the container will make the trip more comfortable for the bird. While transporting the bird, try to be as quiet as possible in your vehicle, and avoid playing music or the radio as these sounds are stressful to wildlife.
    • It is recommended that you handle the bird with gloves on that can be discarded or washed with bleach after contact with the bird.
    • Wash your hands and forearms after touching the bird, even if you wore gloves.
    • The container used to transport the bird should be discarded or washed with a bleach solution after use.
  • If you find an ill bird in your yard, it’s recommended that you take your feeders down, clean them with soapy water and a bleach solution, then keep them down for at least two weeks. If you’ve found one sick bird, there are likely more around, and putting the feeders back, even if they are clean, may result in the spread of illness.
    • In addition to removing feeders, be sure to turn over the earth beneath feeders or remove the top layer to prevent exposure to Salmonella bacteria through fecal matter that falls below hanging feeders.


What if I find a dead bird?

If you find a dead bird, it’s recommended that you handle it only with gloves on, or by grabbing it with a plastic bag turned inside out so that you don’t come in direct contact with the bird. To dispose of it, seal it in a waterproof bag (such as a small trash bag) then place it in a sealed trash bin. If you wish to bury the bird, please do so in an area where it is unlikely to be dug up later by a wild animal looking for a meal!


What animals are vulnerable to Salmonella bacteria?

Although Pine Siskins are particularly vulnerable, other species like finches and grosbeaks may become ill after exposure to Salmonella bacteria. Every species is different in how well it tolerates these bacteria.

Preventing the spread of Salmonella bacteria is not just important to save birds! Birds with Salmonellosis may be lethargic and more easily caught by domestic cats, which can become ill after contact with a sick bird.


If you have any questions or if you think you’ve found a bird that needs help, please call our helpline at 503-540-8664 or e-mail us at for non-urgent questions.


More resources:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology page on Pine Siskins