Give your garden birds a health check

Are your garden birds healthy, asks Wildlife World bird expert Chantal Brown? Give your bird feeders and bird baths and health check before the breeding season.

Greenfinches at a bird feeder
Give the birds in your garden a health check before the breeding season.
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This guest post comes from Chantal Brown, ecologist with Wildlife World. Chantal has a degree in Environmental Biology and Zoology, BASIS Soil and Water Management certificate and BASIS Agronomy foundation award, as well as a Barn Owl license which allows its holders to observe barn owns in their nesting places to provide information for development proposals.

During the last few months of winter, when the natural food source around the countryside has been depleted, many birds become very reliant on gardens and food tables to sustain them during this ‘hungry gap’. It is at this time of year, that we can often see the largest array and number of bird in our gardens. But this can create potential problems. Any feeding area for any species that attracts a high volume of visitors will be a potential area for disease and infection to be spread. Birds like us, can have lowered immunity at this time of year, and the lack of natural habitat forces them into potential disease hot spots.

Be proactive

birde feeder
Goldfinch and siskin feeding at a bird feeder. Image: Martin Mulchinock

There are a few things you can do now to keep your garden birds fit and healthy before the breeding season starts in earnest. Give your bird feeding and drinkers a ‘health and safety’ check, and ensure your good intentions are supporting garden bid conservation without detrimental effect.

  • Rinse bird feeders regularly and periodically move them to fresh ground. If large amounts of droppings have dried and accumulated, you will need to use a special wildlife friendly disinfectant, Wildkleen is a good choice.
  • If the bird food takes more than a few days to clear, reduce the amount. Little and often is best for birds too! Damp, stale bird food will start to rot, sprout or both, creating health hazards for your garden birds and attracting the attention of unwanted rodent visitors.
  • Use a bird table or hanging feeders and keep them scrupulously clean. A ground-feeding tray is preferable to putting food directly on the ground because it ‘s easier to keep clean. Don’t overfeed the birds; food on the ground should all be eaten before nightfall. Rats are attracted to leftover food and often carry diseases, which can affect birds or humans.
  • Rinse water baths frequently, ensuring only clean water is offered to birds. When the weather is cold, birds still need water. To prevent your birdbath freezing over, floating a tennis ball in the water can help. Remove the ball from the frozen surface and it will leave an open hole for the birds to drink and bathe. Repeat regularly to keep water available for your feathered friends.
  • The first thing you need for the cleaning process is a good brush specifically for the job  and an effective scraper.
  • If the feeder and water bath only require a light clean, then environmentally sensitive washing up liquid and warm water should suffice. For a more thorough clean, products such as Wildkleen, an environmentally sensitive disinfectant should be used.

Damage limitation

Greenfinches are prone to a disease Trichomonas gallinae that is spread when adults pick up infected food when feeding and then feed pre-digested food to their young. This particular disease peaks in late summer and early autumn, so ceasing feeding all together during these times could be of benefit, helping to slow the spread of this disease. Natural food sources such as fruit, seeds, bugs and berries are most abundant by this time and your garden birds should be able to forage independently to satisfy their nutrient needs.

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