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Keeping Birds Safe At Your Feeder

Keeping Birds Safe At Your Feeder

The Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative (CWHC) has published a new technical report called “Strategies to Prevent and Control Bird-Feeder Associated Diseases and Threats.” The report was prompted by the widespread trichomonosis outbreak in 2017 that extended from Ontario to Newfoundland and Labrador. This and other bird feeder associated diseases and threats generate a great deal of public concern, so the CWHC released this report to ensure the availability of scientifically 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. However, bird feeding is considered an exception to that rule, partly due to the fact birds do not 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 does not have the same impact as it might with wildlife who can become dependent on one particular food source. Even so, as the popularity of bird feeding increases with millions ofhouseholds 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. Image of birds feeding


  1. Avoid the unintended consequences of feeding that result from predation or trauma.
  2. House residents 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:
    • Promoting management for bird friendly habitat to avoid the need for supplemental Feed to attract or nourish birds.
    • Ensuring proper feeding techniques and hygienic feeding practices.

Best Practices

  • 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.
  • Any cover that could conceal predators attempting to 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 metre or more than 10 metres 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 as they are easier to clean.
  • Small feeders are best since they do not 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 also 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.
  • Always wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly after cleaning your feeders.
Feed the right food.
  • Provide only high-quality birdseed by reading the ingredients on the packages as bargain brands often contain “filler” seeds such as milo, red millet, ax, oats, rice and wheat that are generally not eaten by birds and will readily absorb moisture promoting spoilage and fungal growth. Additionally, these “filler” seeds are often discarded by birds beneath the feeders, attracting rodents and other wildlife species.
  • Different bird species prefer different seed types so take this into consideration when selecting bird food and provide a variety. Sunflower seeds are the top choice among most birds. Suet is great, but only in the winter months, since it goes rancid quickly in the heat. Saffower seeds, nyjer seeds and peanuts are other good choices that will attract a variety of species.
  • Foods that have no nutritional value for birds or should not be fed to them include bread and chocolate.
Clean bird feeders and artificial water sources regularly.
  • They should be cleaned and disinfected twice a month while in use.
  • Use a scrub brush and hot soapy water to clean debris and bird feces off the feeders.
  • Special attention should be given to the perches and openings where the birds have to place their heads inside to get access to the bird feed.
  • After cleaning, they should be disinfected by immersion for two to three minutes in a solution of one part of liquid chlorine bleach and nine parts of warm water, then rinsed with clean water and allowed to air dry.
  • Remove feeders if an outbreak is detected, and consult your CWHC Regional Centre to find out when the danger has passed.
  • Use visual markers or other means to make your windows visible to birds. Learn more here.
  • Keep domestic cats indoors or outdoors only on a leash or in an enclosure to prevent predation. Learn more here.
  • Surveil the birds at your feeders: this is an important aspect of disease prevention in particular, since the possibility of outbreaks is a constant threat. As well as keeping an eye on your backyard birds, listen for alerts from press outlets and management agencies on disease outbreaks.
For more information on the signs and symptoms of some of the more common diseases, download a full copy of the CWHC report.

Common Bird Feeding Myths

Common Bird Feeding Myths

[caption id="attachment_22916" align="alignleft" width="150"]Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator Samantha Nurse, Web and Social Media Coordinator[/caption] Feeding birds can be a rewarding experience, and a great way to connect with nature. But are you really helping your feathered friends? Here's the truth about some common bird feeding myths:

Myth: Feeding birds prevents them from migrating.

Fact: Birds migrate in response to factors such as length of daylight and weather, not because of food availability. In fact, birds need more food during long migrations, so your feeder may be a welcome stop for species you don't normally see in your area.

Myth: Birds become dependent on feeders.Image of a bird at a bird feeder

Fact: Most birds use many sources of food and do not rely on just one. If your feeder happens to go empty, most birds will find food elsewhere, although you'll have to work harder to bring them back to your yard. Loss of natural habitat due to human development does make it more difficult each year for birds to find the necessary food, particularly during the winter months, so providing a ready source of seeds, fruits or suet can give many birds a leg up.

Myth: The mixed seed at the grocery store is bad.

Fact: Some mixed seed can be bad, while other grocery-store varieties will provide quality for your feeder; the key is in the ingredients. Filler in cheap feed includes lots of milo, wheat, and barley. There may also be inedible objects such as sticks and empty hulls visible in the mix. These seeds are more likely to attract pesky birds and result in more wasted seed on the ground around your feeder. A good mix will have some form of sunflower seed and may also include peanut bits, safflower and millet.
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DIY: Fall Gourd Bird Feeder

DIY: Fall Gourd Bird Feeder

[caption id="attachment_23392" align="alignleft" width="150"]Image of Laura Strachan Laura Strachan, Guest Blogger[/caption] This blog was written by guest blogger Laura Strachan.  ‘Tis the season for decorative gourds! Why not put those cute Cucurbitaceae to good use by turning one (or many) into a bird feeder? This is a great way to bring birds to your yard while decorating for the season. Gourds come in many shapes and sizes, but all will work for this easy DIY feeder. The first thing that you will need to get are a few materials listed below. 


  • Gourd(s) - it does not matter what size as long as you are able to fill it with bird seed;
  • Short serrated knife or small hand saw for hard gourds;
  • String or twine to hang your feeder up;
  • Twigs, toothpicks or kebab sticks as stand for the birds; and
  • Drill with ¼” bit (optional).


Step 1: Cut off the top section of your gourd and set aside. Remove the seeds. Step 2: Evenly space out and mark the locations for 3-4 holes on the side of the gourd edge. Using a knife or drill poke holes through to the interior. Step 3: Feed strings through the holes, knotting them in place. [caption id="attachment_29410" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Image of steps to building a Gourd Bird Feeder Steps 1 through 3. Photos by Laura Strachan[/caption] Step 4: Inserts toothpick or sticks into the sides for perches Step 5 (optional): Replace the top section onto your birdfeeder by skewering it in place with toothpicks or by adding holes to the top, knotting it in place. Make sure you leave enough clearance for the birds to reach the seed! [caption id="attachment_29412" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Final steps to gourd bird feeder by Laura Strachan Final steps to gourd bird feeder by Laura Strachan[/caption] Fill and hang! Let us know how this fall craft turns out for you!  Image of a DIY Gourd Bird Feeder
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Join the Great Backyard Bird Count!

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count!

[caption id="attachment_21694" align="alignleft" width="150"]Ted Cheskey Senior Conservation Manager – Bird Conservation, Education & Networks Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager – Bird Conservation, Education & Networks[/caption] In 2015, nearly 150,000 individual checklists were submitted that documented over 18 million birds observed during the 4 day long Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). This citizen science initiative is a great way to watch birds at your feeders, keep track of what you see, and contribute to our knowledge on the distribution and abundance of birds. In 2016, the GBBC runs from February 12 through 15.  Participating is fun, simple and easy so get the whole family involved! Image of birds at a feederHere’s how it works: All you need to do is count the number of individuals of each species you see during a single counting session, and submit a checklist for each counting session. A counting session can take 5 minutes or 30 minutes, however much time you wish to observe.  You can do multiple counting sessions over a day or over all four days. From each session, you record the maximum number that you observe at any one time for each species. You can count in more than one location—but you submit a separate checklist for each location each time you count. The birds you count don’t need to be just at your feeder, but can be flying over, or anywhere that you can observed them from your observation point. Organizers of this event are predicting a large number of unusual observations, with the El Niño weather phenomenon warming Pacific waters to temperatures matching the highest ever recorded. Information gathered and reported online at will help track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced to El Niño storms and unusual weather patterns. Image of birds eating out of a handThough rarities and out-of-range species are exciting, it’s important to keep track of more common birds too. Many species around the world are in steep decline and tracking changes in distribution and numbers over time is vital to determine if conservation measures are needed. Everyone can play a role. Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.   Email Signup

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