Advice on feeding wild birds

Feeding the Birds and recommended Hygiene precautions.


SUMMARY of key points

  • Bird Flu is on our doorstep, poultry and captive birds are in lock down
  • If you or your Neighbours keep the above, then don’t feed Wild Birds
  • For the rest there is no ban on feeding Wild Birds
  • Wild Birds have become reliant upon being fed, especially during winter
  • Providing water for drinking and bathing is also essential
  • Try and discourage known carriers, birds, and vermin
    (Feeders can be changed or modified to keep vermin away)
  • Do not feed kitchen scraps, feed sparingly
  • Disinfect feeders regularly, as needed or monthly
  • Empty old nests from Nest boxes and disinfect by end of February

The Context:

Bird Flu has hit the UK very hard this year. Easingwold is in a Disease Control Zone. All poultry and captive birds must be housed indoors in England until further notice. All captive deaths must be reported, and the public are requested to report some bird deaths found in the wild.

The Government strongly advises that anyone who keeps domestic fowl should refrain from feeding wild birds. It would also be sensible to extend that suggestion to their immediate neighbours.

However, the Government has not banned the feeding of wild birds during this difficult period. If we stop feeding the Wild Birds, then even more will be lost.

The RSPB, BTO, Wildlife Trust and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs have each examined how we might ensure that the current actions are sufficient to avoid the need to impose even greater restrictions.

Many of the birds that we will see in our gardens over the winter months are seasonal visitors e.g., Fieldfare, Redwing, Waxwing, Brambling, Thrush, Blackbird, and Starling. They will arrive hungry and will then need further sustenance for their onward journeys. In addition, the natural food sources for our ‘visitor and native’ species are about to get scarcer during winter. In addition to the effects of Avian Flu most of our visitor and native species have declined markedly over the past 30 years or so. ‘Feeding the Wild Birds’ is now an essential need.

The suggestions detailed below have been put forward by one or more of the above specialist bird/wildlife organisations, including DEFRA.

We have all lived with Covid for nearly three years now. That has required all of us to accept and undertake stringent hygiene precautions. Perhaps we can now continue similar care and practices for the benefit of our wild birds.

Who are the known Carriers?

The Crow family, (including Crows, Ravens, Rooks, Jackdaws and Magpies), Waterbirds and Game Birds are all known potential carriers of Avian Flu, along with rodents, including the Grey Squirrel.

The advice is that the above ‘carrier’ birds should be discouraged from visiting our gardens. It is suggested that ceasing the feeding of ‘kitchen scraps’, (cooked food, meat, fat, potatoes etc) will discourage most of the above.

If, despite the above action, their visits persist then it is further recommended that feeding should be suspended for all birds for a period of 6 weeks or until the offenders go elsewhere.

Basic Hygiene Practice

The accumulation of uneaten, mouldy, and/or rotting bird food combined with bird droppings, vermin and known ‘carriers’ can all affect the chances of Bird Flu. That’s why it is important to undertake basic hygiene practice.

 The importance of Fresh Water

Fresh/clean water is as important as providing fresh food. Birds drink and need to regularly bathe to help clean and condition their plumage for protection and insulation. Look around your garden, whilst there may be receptacles that already hold water, it may be better to install dedicated bird baths that can be readily accessed and cleaned.

Bird Feeders

Bird feeders that hang from trees or feeding stations should be squirrel and rodent proof. There are versions on the market that have an outer cage. They are more expensive, but they might enable you to leave the feeders outside during the night.

There are two cheaper alternatives; the first is to tie you feeder to an overhanging branch of a tree, on the end of a long wire, so that a squirrel or rodent cannot use the branch to hang onto whilst it reaches to the feeder. The second suggestion is to utilise two hanging baskets to create a cage around your feeder and hold these together with wire.

Also consider using less feeders, in positions that can be observed and accessed more easily. Put enough food into each feeder that would normally be consumed during the day. If the feeder is rodent/squirrel proof, then it can be left out overnight.

Different species eat different foods although commercial seed mixes are sufficient for most species that visit your garden. Fat balls need to be held in rodent/squirrel proof feeders (see above)

Fill each bird food container with enough food to last between early morning and before darkness. Where possible provide a platform or bird table to catch the seed/nuts/meal worms which are displaced. Whilst many bird species will eat food that has fallen to the ground the objective is to prevent any uneaten food being picked up by vermin during the night thereby increasing the risk of spreading disease. Ground food trays should be removed at night. It may be necessary to reposition all your feeders during the year to prevent the build-up of uneaten food.

The following is some practical advice regarding keeping ourselves and the birds safe.

  • It is strongly advised that Bird feeders, bird tables, bird baths and nesting boxes should be disinfected on a regular basis. This process should be undertaken outside (and not in the kitchen sink!) whilst wearing gloves (disposable or washable/reusable).
  • One cup of household chlorine bleach in one gallon of water will be effective against many disease-causing organisms. Allow to soak for a minimum of 20 minutes. Use a bird feeder brush or bottle brush to remove foreign particles.
  • After 20 minutes plunge whatever is being disinfected into a second bucket that contains fresh water only or hold under an outside tap that is positioned over a drain. Assist the rinsing process but be careful not to splash.
  • It is essential that items washed are left out to dry thoroughly before filling/reassembling. This will ensure that any traces of disinfectant will be dispersed.
  • Remove and carefully dispense of gloves or wash if reusable, wash hands and arms.
  • Boiling water poured onto the inside of nesting boxes is very effective in killing remaining parasites and removing ‘dirt’. Best to decant the ‘boiling’ kettle into a suitable receptacle and then use before much heat is lost – but be careful! It is suggested that the cleaning of nesting boxes should be undertaken between the months of September and February.

Produced by Sustainable Crayke

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