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A scarlet tanager takes advantage of a suet feeder. These birds are a rare sight in Red Wing backyards. The red male and greenish yellow female spend most of their time high among the wide leaves of deciduous trees in the northeastern forest canopy, according to the Cornelle Lab of Ornithology. (Photo by Bruce Ause)

Clean feeders, healthy birds

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Red Wing, 55066
Republican Eagle
651-388-3404 customer support
Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

Birds sing for their supper in many a neighborhood. People put out feeders to attract song birds that provide visual enjoyment and eat some bugs, too.

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Those feeders, however, pose a health risk because moldy birdseed and dirty feeders can make birds sick.

"Generally speaking, the warmer the weather, the more frequent the cleaning should take place," Red Wing naturalist Bruce Ause said.

"I clean my oriole and hummingbird feeders every time I refill them. I thoroughly wash them with clean water. In the summer (hot) weather I only fill them about half full each day. Otherwise the sugar water will spoil quickly," he said.

Carrol Henderson with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources encourages people to clean seed feeders, too. He suggests using a solution of 2 ounces of bleach with 1 gallon of water and scrub the entire surface. Then allow the cleaned feeder to dry out in the sun, he said in a statement, as the sunlight will help kill bacteria on the feeder.

Mold often forms on birdseed in wet spring conditions and during hot, humid summer days, according to the Minnesota DNR. Mold can cause a fatal avian disease called aspergillosis, which affects the birds' respiratory systems.

Salmonella also affects birds and is associated with unclean feeders.

Don't fill the clean seed feeder too full, the men said.

"I prefer to only put out enough seed in my feeders to last a couple days. Putting out large quantities of seed will usually result in spoilage," Ause said.

This is especially true with thistle seed for the finches. He said he also buys thistle seed in small quantities.

"I have had large quantities of thistle seed go rancid simply by being stored in my garage," he said.

Henderson advises people to rake or sweep up any fallen seeds and seed hulls under a feeder to prevent moldy conditions from occurring on the ground.

"These seeds can also attract meadow voles, house mice or other rodents, and the growth inhibitor in sunflower hulls can cause problems with grass or flowers near the feeder," he said.

"To conclude, we feed birds for many reasons other than mere enjoyment," Ause said. "They are great subjects of conversation when friends come to visit. As new species come and go, bird watching is a great way to track the changing seasons."

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Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 
(651) 301-7870
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