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The information presented on this page was originally released on November 8, 1999. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Offer Safe Food At Bird Feeders
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many kind-hearted people put feeders out in cold weather for birds, but these can turn deadly for the birds under unsanitary conditions.
Dean Stewart, wildlife specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the most important thing to ensure is that bird feeders keep the feed dry.
"If feed gets wet, grain can mold and develop funguses that can kill small birds and even harm animals as large as quail and turkeys," Stewart said. "The problem is more pronounced in small birds such as songbirds."
Feed that gets wet should be disposed of either in the garbage or buried a foot or more in the ground. Sanitize the feeder with hot water and a mild detergent. Allow it to dry thoroughly before refilling with fresh feed.
"If the feed got wet and moldy, there's obviously some kind of problem with the feeder that you need to address or it will happen again," Stewart said. "Feeders need to have a good cover to protect from blowing rain."
Stewart said feeders should be near natural habitats such as trees or shrubs that provide protective cover and perching sites, but do not expose birds to predators. A metal collar around the bird feeder's pole keeps raccoons and squirrels out of the feeder if these are not desired.
Different birds like to eat either on the ground or at varying heights above it, so hang or place the feeder on a pole at an appropriate height for the birds being attracted. If feeders are placed to allow bird watching, be sure they are near enough so the birds can be viewed.
"Bird feeders can be placed fairly close to the house, but not too close because this can lead to problems," Stewart said.
While not all birds need water daily, it is a good idea to have a water source located nearby, such as a birdbath
Bird feeders come in various designs to accommodate different bird species. Feed mixes are also sold to attract certain birds. Stewart said information about birds and their eating habits can be obtained from the Extension Service, the Mississippi or National Wildlife Federation or the Audubon Society.
The Extension Service also offers designs for bird feeders and bird nesting boxes for those people who want to build these.
"Birdwatching is one of the biggest outdoor recreations in the country and one of the top non-consumptive uses of wildlife," Stewart said. "People tend to get more interested in birdwatching and feeding birds as they get older. It's easy to attract and feed birds, and it's a fairly inexpensive hobby to have."