September 2021: Bird Feeders are Back!

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has given the green light for bird feeders! The strange, infectious disease affecting feeder birds along the east coast seems to have subsided, and DEEP has lifted its advisory. 

This is exciting news for bird lovers! We can place our feeders outside again—but with an abundance of caution. This month’s post will focus on how to suppress potential transfer of diseases in birds at feeders and baths. Also, what’s ideal to feed the birds, and how to deal with those tenacious interlopers: squirrels. (As a side note, if you see birds with swollen or crusty eyes, please contact the DEEP and report the bird’s location. You can also contact a wildlife rehabilitator if the bird is alive. Never handle a dead or sick bird without gloves, and keep your pets away from any wild animals, sick or healthy.)


Now, let’s talk about cleaning a seed, fruit, mealworm, or suet feeder.

  1. Wear gloves.
  2. Dissemble the feeder.
  3. Use no more than 1 part bleach to 9 parts water and scrub every part. I use a scrub brush dedicated only for this purpose. 
  4. Rinse.
  5. Allow to dry completely before reassembling for use.

I do this each time before I refill the feeder. It’s also important to remove excess waste from below feeders. If left unattended, it can spread disease and attract rodents. 


Hummingbird feeders can be cleaned with bleach, but a really good rinse is recommended before drying and refilling. Unlike other feeders, hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every 3-5 days. Otherwise, a mold can form that will harm the birds. Hot water and a bottle brush will usually suffice. Again, allow to dry completely before refilling.


As for bird baths, the best practice is:

  1. Always pour out stagnant water before refilling. Never just add more water.
  2. Use the jet setting on your hose to remove feces or any excess debris. 
  3. While wearing gloves, use 1 part bleach (or 1 white distilled vinegar) to 9 parts water to scrub the bird bath clean.
  4. Rinse well.
  5. Allow to dry completely before refilling with fresh water.

If your birdbath is popular, it’s recommended to clean it 2-3 times per week. Otherwise, 1-2 times per week will do. 


Now, let’s talk about food.

1. Plant native.

No, seriously. If you move, or go on vacation, or have to take down your feeders, you can still support the birds in the backyard, especially by planting favorite native plants. Shrubs like chokeberry (Aronia spp.), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), American cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), sumac (Rhus spp.), elderberry (Sambucus), and highbush blueberry are excellent choices. For small trees, try serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). Plants that provide plentiful seed include joe pye-weed (Eupatorium spp.), black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta), butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), blazing star (Liatris spicata), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and New England aster (Aster novae-angliae). 

And for hummingbirds? Consider the gorgeous flowers of red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), redbud (Cercis canadensis), bee balm (Monarda oswego), phlox (Phlox spp.), penstemon (Penstemon spp.), and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). 

Grasses also provide seeds for birds! Check out some gorgeous natives like prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), pink mulhy grass (Mulhenbergia cappillaris), and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)!

Planting native plants has the added benefit of providing food for nestlings! Ninety-seven percent of baby songbirds require insects, particularly caterpillers, to grow. Providing native plants attracts butterfly and moths, providing plentiful caterpillars for the birds.

2. Put out feeders.

So you’ve picked out some gorgeous, bird-attractive plants to add to your property, or onto a patio with pots, and now you’re wanting to go further with bird feeders. Diversifying food among your feeders will attract a variety of amazing backyard birds. 

  • Black oil sunflower seed is a popular choice among many birds such as nuthatches, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, cardinals, and finches. (Hulled sunflower seeds will attract many of the same birds.)
  • Fruit is another attractive choice. Orioles will eat from halved oranges. Catbirds, bluebirds, mockingbirds, and waxwings will happily feast upon grapes and raisins. 
  • A flat tray offering mealworms (dried or live) will attract bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, grackles, wrens, and nuthatches. 
  • Millet is attractive to sparrows and dark-eyed juncos.
  • Nyjer seeds will draw in goldfinches and pine siskins. 
  • Peanuts are a favorite among jays, but nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice will also partake. 
  • Suet feeders are choice among woodpeckers and nuthatches. 

3. Defend!

You’ve put out the feeders, and now other wildlife is showing interest. If that wildlife is a hawk or a bear, take your bird feeders in. Keep them inside for a few days if the invader is a hawk; they’ll get hungry and move on. If it’s a bear, and they’ve fed from your feeder, it’s best to keep the feeders inside for a few weeks (and remove any other food sources such as garbage cans or compost) before placing them back out. 

More likely than a hawk or a bear, your invader will be none other than the eastern grey squirrel. These plucky creatures LOVE bird feeders, and will often perform great acrobatics to reach them. (Check out this youtube video on squirrels completing human-made obstacle courses to achieve their goal.) 

There are a few ways to deal with squirrels. I’m going to list the ones I’ve discovered to be of the most use:

  1. A pole with a squirrel baffle. Make sure the pole is at least 10 feet away from any structure the squirrel might climb. They can jump very far! The baffle goes around the pole, preventing the squirrel from climbing up. 
  2. If your feeders are hanging on a rope or line of some sort, place clear plastic tubing along the ends of the line. When the squirrel tries to climb, the tube will spin and prevent the squirrel from walking across. 
  3. Place squirrel treats in other areas of the yard—a pile of peanuts, or a cob of dry corn. Either will keep them busy at the easy access food, rather than trying to outsmart any barriers to the birdseed. 
  4. If you’d like to try a humorous approach, check out this squirrel feeder: 

Happy Feeding!