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Bird Feeders and Disease

Photo: Don Severson
Cardinal, house finch, goldfinch and chickadee at bird feeders.
To keep birds healthy, it is important to keep feeders and bird baths clean.

Many people are wondering if it is safe to keep their bird feeders up due to the mystery illness that is currently affecting birds across many states. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is not currently recommending that bird feeders be removed in Illinois. If you find five or more dead birds in close proximity, you can contact the local IDNR district wildlife biologist to report the birds for possible testing. 

While many people enjoy feeding birds, improperly maintained feeders can put birds at risk. Bird feeders and bird baths can serve as reservoirs for several diseases found in birds including salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, aspergillosis, avian pox, and conjunctivitis.

If sick birds are noticed at feeders, stop feeding the birds, clean the feeders with a dilute bleach solution (one cup bleach to nine cups water), and wait three to four weeks before feeding the birds again. Properly maintained feeders can help reduce the spread of these diseases. Be sure to properly maintain bird baths as well.

An even better way to attract birds to your yard is to plant a mix of native trees, shrubs, and flowers that provide natural food sources, cover, and nesting sites for birds. Providing natural sources of food, rather than stocking bird feeders, will reduce the likelihood of healthy birds coming into close contact with sick birds.

For more information about properly maintaining bird feeders, check out Cornell’s All About Birds.