Here is some information which may help if you are concerned about apparent sickness or general lethargy of the wild birds at your feeder. If birds appear listless, wander around on the ground or end up as cats dinner this should set off alarm bells as probably there is a problem though not necessarily from your feeders or water source. Healthy wild birds are normally highly active, swift flyers and a change in their behaviour should be quite evident.
What to do for Sick Birds
- If you see a bird not as quick as the others, listless, on the ground, not moving, or perhaps you find a dead one – the problem may not be your feeders - but take them down for a week or so anyway.
- Clean the feeders with a mild bleach solution and dry in the sun (one part bleach to 10 parts water)
- Birds using the water baths always leave feces behind so keep clean daily. A running water bird bath is preferable than sitting water
- If a bird has died, and looks sick or deformed – take it to a local SPCA as this might be indicative of a bird type of flu
- Exercise caution when handling birds which have died (gloves, etc) and bury where animals cannot dig up
- There are several diseases such as west nile virus, salmonella, and avian flu which may affect wild birds in your area
- More ideas on wild bird care in CAP article
It is imperative to keep bird feeders and baths clean
Sickness or Disease from Elsewhere
- Even if you have a chemical free yard your neighbours might be using cosmetic herbicides and pesticides on their lawn and gardens. This is much more difficult to deal with because of “drift”
- High fences and hedges around your yard may help prevent drift from your neighbours but the birds travel freely and can become sick anyway.
- If you know your neighbours use chemicals outdoors, a simple suggestion is to not feed the birds or encourage them into your yard as toxic chemicals are just that – toxic to kids, pets and little birds.
- Pesticides can also create breeding problems. If you have birds breeding in your vicinity watch their offspring. We have blue jays, robins, sparrows and finches all breeding in the immediate area and last year “our” robins had three healthy babies.
- Chemicals, especially herbicides and pesticides , will kill the good bugs and bad bugs – not just the weeds. Birds love ants, spiders, wasps, bees and a multitude of worms which they thrive on. It goes without saying, if you use garden chemicals it's really not fair to encourage birds to your yard
- Keep your children or pets away from dead wild birds and do not permit them to handle (or pets to eat)
- If squirrels continue to be a problem at your bird feeders after using anti squirrel feeders you may have no other option but to remove it temporarily
We love watching the healthy, active birds all year at our feeders and the many species keep our yard clear of bugs and weeds. Please check out some of the links below to reinforce the importance of keeping our feeders clean to prevent the spread of disease so we can continue to enjoy our beautiful native birds It is a commitment to keep feeders and bird baths clean and full but the beautiful bird songs from early morning, from our nesting robins to the melodious Song Sparrow or American Goldfinch is reward itself.
Mass species extinction continues almost unchecked.
John Spicer, "biodiversity" pg 151,
Oneworld Publications 2006
Links & References
- Diseases of birds
- Bird diseases can spread to humans e.g. avian influenza
- Wild bird numbers on the decline world wide
- Caution: Small finches dying in Burnaby BC from salmonella outbreak from bird feeders
- For health and safety, obviously sick birds should be reported to local authorities (US link). Report to SPCA in Canada
- Handle dead birds carefully
- Tons more information on bird diseases
- It is illegal to care for or keep wild birds (and wildlife) especially endangered species. Ministry of Environment.
- Excellent bird identification reference is "Birds of Southwestern British Columbia" by Cannings / Aversa / Opperman, Heritage House, 2009
Ideas to help our wild birds survive
- Bird feeding
- Habitat protection
- Protecting wild birds – a shared directive
- National and International wild bird conservation
- Local BC bird and habitat protection
- Protect from cats
In wilderness is the preservation of the world.
~ Henry David Thoreau