A Bird's Guide to Safe Birdfeeders

Blue Jay wearing a fedora and chomping down on a berry  Pigeon wearing a traffic safety vest

A joint story by Alan Bluefeather, Food Reporter, and Marco Greyback, Health and Safety Reporter.

When you’re really hungry, sometimes you just don’t care WHERE or WHAT you eat. But did you know that some birdfeeders can actually make you really sick? Especially in the summertime when warm rains can make seeds so wet that they start growing mold. And with hundreds of birds sharing the same feeder, it’s the perfect breeding ground for spreading diseases. Who can forget the House Finch Eye Disease that wiped out hundreds of thousands of our finch friends in the 1990s!

The best thing to do is probably just to avoid birdfeeders completely at this time. But if you can’t do that, here are some tips:

1. Look for birdfeeders that have mesh walls that let a lot of air flow through them. That will help dry out any seeds that might have gotten wet. Even better if the birdfeeder has drainage holes on the bottom to let the water out. 

2. If you see a birdfeeder that’s packed to the brim with seeds, you might think “it’s my lucky day!” But think again. A feeder that’s full of seeds will take longer to dry out if it gets wet. Mold alert! And don’t eat seeds that have a bad smell or are so clumped together that you can’t even get them out of that pesky little hole. It’s hard enough getting them out when they’re not wet and clumpy.

3. Make sure the humans are cleaning the birdfeeder regularly. It should be spotless!

4. A good birdfeeder will be under a covering that protects it from rain, like a tree branch or a roof overhang. If there are thorny bushes around the feeder, even better. The thorns will help keep away sneaky cats.

And remember, if you’re showing signs of this illness that’s been going around (weakness, shaking, crusty eyes) get yourself to the Wild Bird Fund rehabilitation center in the Upper West Side. Local cat Scrappy Sharpfangs has (generously?) offered to help take any sick birds to the center. I leave it up to you whether you’d like to partake of that offer.

In any case, stay safe out there, birdies. 

Bluejay in a fedora hat perched on a birdfeeder
Alan Bluefeather checking out a birdfeeder last winter.
Illustrations: © Fiona Carswell, 2021.