Wild Bird Health (1)

How Clean Gardens Are The Route To Wild Bird Health

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We all love to see a garden filled with birds feasting, drinking, and bathing. But the bird feeders, bird tables and other feeding points we put up, can easily become a focus for the spread of disease which currently affects 8.3% of all garden birds (according to MHG).

Our feeders and drinkers tend to attract high numbers of different bird species which can cause cross contamination. There are many disease transfer points across our gardens that need to be considered – bird tables, feeders, bird baths, and window feeding trays will all transmit disease if not looked after and thoroughly cleaned frequently.  

Separating Feed, Feet & Faeces is key to protecting our wild birds. We must ensure they cannot stand or defecate in the food or water they are given. It’s vital to clean bird feeders and tables regularly because if we don’t then we are literally, killing with kindness.

Here is a guide to help you keep your garden clean, by Finches Friend ambassador, Naturalist Martin Hughes-Games.

Right now, there are three main diseases affecting our garden birds that are of serious concern.


A parasitic disease that is passed from bird to bird via saliva. This happens wherever birds feed intensively, including hanging feeders or bird tables. Whilst many species can become infected, Finches are the most affected.

Shockingly, the British Greenfinch population is now endangered and may face extinction after falling by a huge 66% since 2006 due to this disease. Other common garden birds are also susceptible to Trichomonosis. Right now, Chaffinches are also experiencing the same dramatic decline as the Greenfinches.

Avian flu 

Generally passed on by birds migrating into the UK, through direct contact or contaminated saliva and droppings.  This viral infection occurs naturally among wild aquatic birds, like ducks, geese, and swans, worldwide.

It can however also infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species, making good hygiene when feeding garden birds, a priority.  Once again, feeding stations are a potential hotspot for transmission.


A bacterial infection transmitted through rotting food and droppings of infected birds that contaminate food and water. This can cause salmonellosis in garden birds, especially in seed-eating birds such as Greenfinches and House Sparrows.

How To Create A Safer Garden

To avoid the spread of disease, supporting birds responsibly means making the right choices and following the right steps. Using the right bird feeder and adopting a regular and effective cleaning routine is critical.

Food & Feet

  • Keep Food Dry – Only use feeders that prevent the seed from getting wet. Bird seedthat is exposed to rain and becomes wet is a more suitable environment for disease transmission. The food MUST remain dry and free of mould whilst in the feeder.
  • Free from FEET – Birds don’t wash their feet! If a bird can stand in a feeder or water source, then it will spread disease.
  • Choose Wisely – ensure your feeder doesn’t allow birds to stand in the food and choose a feeder that is quick and easy to clean. If it is difficult to do so, then you most likely won’t clean it frequently enough. Ensure it is made from a non-porous material and has a smooth surface.
  • Cover Up – It should not be possible for birds to access the food with anything except their beak! Don’t allow them to walk in their food. Dirty FEET can spread droppings and therefore disease.
  • Ditch The Table – Do not use table feeders. Sick birds sitting directly on bird seed are more likely to contaminate it. Stick with a perch feeder wherever possible.
  • Water – Many of the same rules apply. Provide clean drinking water every day and wash it properly weekly.  Dirty water can stand stagnant for weeks or months making disease transmission an inevitable consequence. If you use a bird bath, avoid clay, cement, or corroded iron as they are not ideal and can contaminate the water. As above, foot contamination is common, so as with feeders, clean and re-fill weekly.
  • It’s also good practice to clean the areas surrounding and below your feeders and tables. Be sure to remove any wet, soiled, or spoiled food and droppings from these spaces.
  • Where possible place your feeder in an elevated position to avoid contamination.
  • Also, avoid feeding on the ground as this quickly becomes stale and encourages unwanted guests.

Cleaning Your Bird Feeder

  1. Wear gloves
  2. Remove or empty old food
  3. Take it apart before scrubbing with hot soapy water and a brush
  4. Rinse thoroughly with cold water to leave no trace and dry
  5. Treat with a non-toxic disinfectant or weak bleach solution
  6. Rinse again and dry before re-filling

Cleaning Your Bird Table

  1. Wear gloves
  2. Use warm, soapy water to clean the top of the table ensuring that all food and droppings are removed
  3. Rinse thoroughly with cold water and let it dry
  4. Spray with non-toxic disinfectant or weak bleach solution. 
  5. Rinse again and let it dry before re-filling

Other Steps To Keep Birds Healthy

In addition to the above, if possible, it helps to provide several feeding stations to reduce the number of birds in any one spot. It’s also a good idea to rotate the position of feeders to minimise droppings and food waste in areas underneath them. Doing this, should help to create a safer garden for our feathered friends.

Check out www.finchesfriend.com for bird feeders purposefully designed to reduce the transmission of disease amongst our bird populations.

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