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.
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:
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.
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFZFjoX2cGg 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: