Goldfinch on clean bird feeder filled with seeds

You’ve made your backyard the place to be for local birds by installing a bird feeder or two. If you don’t keep the feeders clean though, you risk causing the spread of disease and illness amongst the bird population your family enjoys watching. Keep birds coming back to your backyard feeder by doing your part to feed them and keep them healthy. Continue reading to learn more about how to clean a bird feeder.

  • Step 1: Empty the Feeder

    Bird feeders should be cleaned regularly — every two weeks to once a month is a good rule, because mold, mildew and bacteria can build up in feeders. Heavily visited feeders may need to be cleaned more often than others. More traffic equals more mess and an increased possibility of disease and illness, so get into the habit of cleaning heavy-traffic feeders each time you refill.

    Remove the feeder from its mount or perch and discard any remaining seed or suet from the feeder if the birds haven’t picked it completely clean. Place the discarded food in the trash in case it may be contaminated.

    Safety Alert!

    Wear rubber gloves when cleaning out the feeder to protect yourself from bacteria and other possible pathogens, and to avoid contaminating the feeder.

    Rake up seeds and hulls, and feces on the ground around the feeder location when you clean the feeder.

  • Step 2. Disassemble the Feeder

    Because mold can grow in the corners and crevices of a dirty feeder, disassembling your feeder to clean it makes the job easier and more effective. Many bird feeders come apart for easy cleaning. The method of disassembly depends on what type of feeder you’re using. In general, most feeders have a base specifically designed for easy removal and cleaning. If the base is attached with screws, loosen them with a screwdriver and then detach the base.

  • Step 3: Wash the Parts

    Fill a bucket with warm water and then add some dish detergent. Place the feeder parts (or the whole feeder if it doesn’t disassemble) into the bucket and leave to soak for 10 to 20 minutes to kill the bacteria. Remove the whole feeder or its parts from the bucket and scrub with a sponge or a brush. You can scrub the inside of tube feeders with a bottle brush or a tool specifically for cleaning feeders, such as a bird feeder cleaning mop. An old toothbrush can be useful to clean inside crevices or other hard-to-reach places. Rinse with water from a garden hose.

    Saturate the parts with an all-purpose cleaner containing bleach, and let the cleaner stand for about 10 minutes before rinsing with a garden hose.

    For hummingbird feeders, flush the feeder with hot tap water. Use a bottle brush or hummingbird brush to scrub the feeder and ports. Don’t use soap — hummingbirds apparently don't like the taste and will not come back to a feeder with soap residue remaining. Add ¼ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water and soak the feeder for an hour or so. Use a bottle brush for cleaning the hummingbird feeder and rinse thoroughly with water to remove all traces of the bleach to avoid harming the hummingbirds.

  • Step 4: Reassemble the Feeder

    Dry the feeder or its parts with a towel and let air-dry. The feeder should be completely dry inside before refilling it with seed. Any moisture inside can lead to faster growth of mold or mildew and potentially make birds sick. Once dry, reassemble the feeder, fastening all screws, if any, and then remount the feeder.

  • Step 5: Keep Birding Area Clean

    General cleanliness around your bird feeder will keep birds healthy and returning to your yard. Take note of nearby foliage and other areas where birds perch in your yard and keep those areas clean as well. Remove spoiled or damp seed from the ground underneath your feeder area. Pick up and discard any rotten fruit from nearby trees.

    Helpful Tip

    Putting mulch or gravel underneath your mounted bird feeder can make cleanup easier. Droppings, fallen seeds and other debris will fall on the mulch or gravel and can be covered with a fresh layer.

    Keep water sources, such as birdbaths, clean and free of debris and algae. Water that stands too long can become unfit for drinking. Empty and refill the birdbath when the water begins to cloud or otherwise look dirty. You can also clean the birdbath with water, some detergent and a brush or a sponge.

    Great work! Now you know how to properly clean your bird feeder so you can keep the birds fed, healthy and flocking to your yard.

Project Shopping List

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