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Wildlife Eduction & Rehabilitation Center … with Joy Joyner: Keeping bird feeders, baths clean helps migrating birds stay healthy

Published in the November 9 – 22, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Joy Joyner

Photo courtesy WERC Joy Joyner, president of the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center Board of Directors, and Luna.

Photo courtesy WERC
Joy Joyner, president of the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center Board of Directors, and Luna.

As the seasons change from autumn to winter, all of us are making preparations for the (hopefully) rainy days ahead. We’re cleaning out storm drains, patching holes in the roof, moving lawn furniture indoors and winterizing our gardens.

Meanwhile, wildlife is also preparing for the cold, dark days of winter. Deer and elk put on their winter coats, squirrels finish gathering the last acorns and nuts to store in their many cache sites, and seasonal migration is well under way for many birds. Merlin Falcons come to our area from their summer homes in Canada’s boreal forests. Swainson’s Hawks are headed for Argentina in early fall to spend the winter in warmer weather.

Right about now, flocks of songbirds are making their way to the South Valley from their Sierra Mountains summer homes to avoid the falling temperatures and coming snows. Many of them will mix right in with the year-round visitors at local back yard bird feeders during their stay, adding delightful new sights and sounds to our daily routine.

But that backyard bird feeder could make those visitors sick — or worse. Every winter, throughout California cases of Salmonellosis, Aspergillosis, Avian Pox, Trichomonias and Mycopalmosis cause bird die offs. In some cases these deaths are in the hundreds or thousands. How does this happen? Feeding stations attract birds, which spend lots of time at the site pecking around, eating and defecating. Then it rains, and the raindrops make all of that built-up waste and seed wet. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Then another layer builds up on top of that, and you end up with layer after layer of bad things for birds.

Photo courtesy WildBirds.com Keeping backyard bird feeders and birdbaths clean during the winter months can help keep local and migrating birds healthy.

Photo courtesy WildBirds.com
Keeping backyard bird feeders and birdbaths clean during the winter months can help keep local and migrating birds healthy.

One poorly kept feeding station can cause birds for miles around to become ill. Disease travels quickly among birds and through flocks. Small songbirds are difficult to rehabilitate from these viral and bacterial infections.

This does not mean you need to take down your bird feeders when winter comes. It just means you need to do a little extra maintenance to help keep wild birds healthy through the season. Practice the following eight steps to keeping our winged friends healthy all winter long:

• First, keep yourself healthy — wear rubber gloves when cleaning the feeders. Wearing a face mask is a good idea, too.

• Throw out the old seed.

• Scrub out feeder, inside and out, with a solution of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water

• Rinse well several times and let dry.

• Sweep up old seeds from underneath the feeder and wash the area. Fill feeders with good quality bird seed.

• Keep hummingbird feeders clean, too, and filled with fresh sugar-water (1-to-4 portions) mix weekly. Our Anna’s Hummingbirds stay here year round.

• Finally, don’t forget to keep your birdbaths clean and filled with fresh water.

If you decide to scatter feed on the ground rather than use a feeder, make sure to clean up any uneaten seed and the seed waste (shells, husks, etc) before scattering more seed in the same location. Allowing seed and seed waste to build up on the ground will cause the same problems as a dirty bird feeder.

Keeping our winter visitors healthy during their stay will ensure that they return to their summer homes with the vigor and vitality needed for breeding season. A healthy bird is a happy bird.

Joy Joyner is president of the board for the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life. She can be reached by emailing her at joy.joyner@gmail.com.