Southwest Birding - The Dos and Don'ts of Backyard Feeding

By Eileen Richardson

If you want to feed birds in the backyard you should recognize that with the fun and enjoyment comes responsibility. While there is some common sense to responsible bird feeding, depending on your neighborhood and it’s setting and the season your approach changes. Here are a few things to be considered when establishing your feeders.

1. Keep feeders clean

Clean your feeders as needed. Platform feeders will need to be cleaned more often than tube feeders. Feeders will need to be cleaned more often in warm, damp weather than in cold, dry weather. Feeders visited by obviously ill birds need to be cleaned more often than usual. It is a good idea to clean your feeders a couple of times a year even if no obvious problems are present. You can clean your feeders with soap and water or even a 10% bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly and dry before returning to service.

2. Keep your seed/feed fresh

Store your seed in sealed, dry containers. Do not feed moldy seed. If the seed in your feeders is moldy or overly compacted it should be removed and your feeder cleaned.

3. Keep the area under and around your feeders clean

Excessive build-up of seed hulls and dropped seed under your feeders can attract rodents, raccoons and other animals. These rodents may not be what your neighbors want around. Use a screen under your feeders to catch the dropped seed and hulls or rake and clean the area under your feeders regularly.

4. Birdbaths

Birdbaths should be rinsed and the water replaced on a weekly basis. Replacing the water on a weekly basis prevents the development of mosquitoes in certain areas and keeps it fresh for the birds. Occasionally clean your birdbath with a 10% bleach and water solution. Rinse thoroughly. Some birdbath designs incorporate a filter and recirculation system and do not need to be cleaned as often.

5. Your safety

Wear rubber gloves when cleaning your feeders and birdbath to prevent illness to you as a human.

6. Window-mounted feeders

Do not use window-mounted feeders in the spring. As birds start to defend their territories, window-mounted feeders may increase the number of birds injured by flying into windows.

7. Bird houses and nest boxes

If you decide to set up nesting boxes, including bluebird boxes and purple martin houses, be aware that you have a responsibility to manage the nest boxes. House sparrows and starlings sometimes take over these birds’ nest boxes. Learn to recognize house sparrows and starlings and make sure they do not use your nest boxes. This includes removing nesting material and even the eggs or baby birds of these two species. When setting up a purple martin house, the most important consideration is the pole or mounting arrangement. You will need to easily be able to raise and lower the martin house to remove any house sparrows or starlings that try to establish their nests.

8. Be aware of other wild animals in the area you live

In some areas raccoons, opossums, deer and even bears can be attracted to feeders. Be aware of what's going on in your area in both the daytime and at night. In some cases, you may need to stop feeding for a while or bring your feeders in at night.