Get the facts on backyard bird feeding | BC SPCA
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Get the facts on backyard bird feeding

January 21, 2021

The BC SPCA generally doesn’t recommend feeding wildlife – but what about bird feeding? Backyard bird feeding is the most widespread and popular form of human-wildlife interaction worldwide, but it does carry some risks.

Finches on bird feeder
Photo credit: Patrick O’Sullivan

Seeing wild birds visit your backyard can be a joy, but bird feeders can disrupt populations and also increase the risk of disease, window strikes, predation, and conflicts with rodents and other wildlife attracted to the feeders.

For example, a January outbreak of Salmonella resulted in many sick pine siskins in the Lower Mainland and south Vancouver Island. The disease is easily spread when birds come together at bird feeders. More than 50 pine siskins have been admitted to Wild ARC in December and so far in January, with many showing signs of disease but few surviving due to the severity of their condition.

If you see sick birds at your feeder or in the area, immediately remove your bird feeders and keep them down for one to two weeks before putting them back up clean and full of fresh seed. Sick birds may appear lethargic, unusually “fluffed up”, and show signs of irritation around the eyes. Contact the BC SPCA at 1-855-622-7722 for advice or for help finding your local wildlife rehabilitation centre.

Sick pine siskin in care at Wild ARC
Sick pine siskin treated for disease at Wild ARC

Prevent disease outbreaks by regularly cleaning your feeder:

  1. Discard any remaining seed before cleaning
  2. Wash feeder with soap and water – use a bottle brush for small spaces
  3. Wash feeder again with a 10% bleach solution for three minutes
  4. Rinse and air-dry completely
  5. Fill with fresh seed
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 every two weeks

Except for liquid feeders (e.g. hummingbird nectar feeders), the BC SPCA recommends only providing bird feeders in winter between October and March. In the spring and summer months, there is lots of natural food for birds.

Grosbeak bird sits at bottom of bird feeder
Photo credit: Stephanie Watson

Tips for bird feeders:

  • Clean feeders regularly with a 10% bleach dilution to prevent disease outbreaks.
  • To prevent window strikes, place feeders as far away from windows as possible.
  • If it must be near a window, place it less than one metre away and use UV window decals or tape to prevent injury.
  • Place your feeders in protected areas, away from rain, snow and wind.
  • Consult your local bird feed or nature store to determine the right feed for the season and the species.

For your seed and suet feeders, wildlife-proof your feeder, or look to purchase models that are designed this way. Prevent rodent problems by having a dish to collect fallen seed, and make sure to regularly clean up spilled seeds.

Remember that backyard bird feeders can also attract cats – you can prevent problems by keeping your cat indoors, supervising outdoor time or buying a cat bib, and encouraging your neighbours to do the same.

Hummingbird feeders

Liquid hummingbird feeders do not attract rodents and other wildlife, but they can attract ants and other insects, and can cause deadly fungal or bacteria infections if not cleaned thoroughly and regularly, or if the nectar is prepared improperly. Hummingbird feeders also have special considerations for the winter. Learn more about how to safely feed hummingbirds.

Hummingbird at feeder
Photo by Debbie Matthews

Feeding ducks, geese, swans and gulls

Never feed birds like ducks, geese, swans, and gulls at parks, beaches or other areas. Some parks and municipalities have bylaws against feeding birds by hand (e.g. bread, rice and other human food) because it is so harmful for the birds. It causes them to suffer from malnutrition, bone deformation and death, creates conflict with humans, and contributes to environmental degradation and water pollution. The BC SPCA recommends parks and municipalities strongly discourage feeding through education, bylaws and enforcement.

Woodpeckers at suet feeder
Photo credit: Bodhi Drope

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