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Local Experts Advise Cleaning, Not Removing, Bird Feeders

An outbreak of bacterial illness in finches has spurred some bird lovers to take down their backyard feeders. But local Eugene avian experts say that’s not necessary.


Dan Gleason taught Field Ornithology at the University of Oregon for 30 years. He and his wife Barbara own Wild Birds Unlimited in Eugene. Gleason says salmonella infection is not unusual in pine siskins, a type of finch. The illness can spread through bird droppings, and some experts have advised removing feeders. Gleason said it would only be a good idea to remove the feeder if you see sick birds.

“What’s more important, I think, is that you have a very clean, safe feeding situation,”Gleason said. “And that means that when you start to see these kinds of outbreaks, you’ll need to keep your feeders much cleaner, more often than at normal times.”'

Dan Gleason says to wash your feeder in warm, soapy water to remove any film that's built up. Then dip it in a bleach solution before rinsing, drying and refilling with bird seed.

“So, the bird feeders are not the cause of it,” Barbara Gleason said. “ It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon when the birds are stressed because they’ve had to come farther south because of the food sources up in the far north being diminished this year.” 

Barbara Gleason said suet feeders are not a likely source of infection and that hummingbirds are not at high risk of getting sick from their feeders. 

The couple told KLCC backyard bird feeders have become more popular during the pandemic. 


Copyright 2021 KLCC.


Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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