Feeder and bath maintenance
Feeder and bath maintenance is an essential part of safely attracting birds to your yard. Uncleaned feeders and spoiled seeds can result in food poisoning or the transmission of infectious diseases.
Just like in humans, wildlife can be affected by food poisoning. Birds can die from the effects of the poisoning or from becoming vulnerable to predators while unwell. The effects of food poisoning do not occur immediately and can take days. This mean that you will likely not see sick birds at your feeders even if the seeds have gone bad. To prevent this:
- Wash your feeders at least every two weeks.
- Store seeds in a dry, cool location such as a garage or a basement. Do not store seeds outside.
- Do not use old seeds. Depending on the seeds, shelf life varies from a few months to a year.
- Do not leave seeds in a feeder for more than 2 weeks.
- Toss wet, spoiled or moldy seeds.
Uncleaned baths are also a potential source of disease. If you have a bath, it is important to:
- Change the water daily or every other day.
- Wash baths thoroughly every two weeks, every week if used often.
How to clean feeders and baths
Every two weeks, feeders and baths should be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned:
- Throw away leftover seeds in feeders and water in baths.
- Clean out any debris, seeds or mold with a brush. Make sure to clean every corner.
- Soak the feeders and baths in a solution of 10 parts water to 1 part bleach for 30 minutes. Ensure the feeders are completely submerged and the inside of the bath is fully covered in solution.
- You can use chlorine or oxygen bleach.
- After soaking, brush baths to remove any leftover algae.
- Rinse the feeders and baths thoroughly to remove all cleaning product residue.
- Let feeders dry completely before refilling.
Hummingbirds are fascinating little creatures. Only one species of hummingbird can be found in Québec: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Named because of the male’s bright red throat, the females and juveniles, on the other hand, have white throats. These birds are long-distance migrants, spending the winter in the tropical forests of South America.
Hummingbirds are found in most areas of southern Québec. Even if you live in an urban or suburban area, you should try a hummingbird feeder and are likely to receive a visit from some humming visitors.
It is not necessary to purchase pre made hummingbird food. On the contrary, we recommend making your own following the recipe provided below.
- 1 part white sugar
- 4 parts water (this can be reduced to 3 parts in the fall when temperatures are cooler and hummingbirds are getting ready to migrate)
- Bring the water to a boil
- Remove from the stove
- Add the sugar and mix until dissolution
You are done!
You can make extra and store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
DO NOT USE honey, brown sugar, turbinado sugar or any sweetener other than plain white sugar as other sugars and sweeteners are harmful to the hummingbirds.
DO NOT ADD food coloring to make the solution red. Coloring can be harmful and it is not needed to attract the hummingbirds; the color of the feeder is sufficient.
Hummingbird feeders can be placed in the sun or shade. However, feeders placed in the sun have to be cleaned more often due to hot temperatures. Place hummingbird feeders away from other feeders as the bigger birds may scare them.
Hummingbirds are very protective of their feeder and will often chase each other if they happen to feed at the same time. If you observe many hummingbirds around, you can install a second feeder out of sight of the first one.
Change the solution at least twice a week, or three times if the temperature is high. This is very important as hummingbirds will abandon feeders that are not properly maintained and can get severely sick and die from spoiled sugar solution. Only half fill the feeder as pressure from heat will build within a full feeder causing the solution to spit out. This will attract unwanted visitors like wasps. Clean the feeder thoroughly with hot water every time you change the solution. If mold appears, soak in 1 part bleach to 10 parts water then rinse thoroughly.
Arrival and departure dates in spring and fall vary depending on your location but are quite consistent from one year to another. Install your feeder around April 25th (in the Montreal area) and remove one week after your last observation of a hummingbird in the fall (usually the end of September). Adjust dates according to your observations.
To prevent ants from invading your feeder, use an ant moat. They block the ants’ path to the solution with water that ants, being poor swimmers, cannot cross.
Window collisions To reduce the risk of serious injury, feeders should be placed less than 2m (less than 1m is even better) from windows. Window feeders are also a good option. A shorter distance between feeders and windows reduces the risk of serious injury as the birds do not have enough space to gain speed. Alternately, feeders can be placed more than 10m from the house making it more likely that birds will avoid the windows entirely.
Window collisions happen because birds mistake the reflection in the glass pane for their habitat. This can be prevented by installing stickers, decals or anything else to break the reflection on the outside of the pane. For more information, see our document about window safety here. You can purchase window markers here.
Predation Place feeders close to a tree or bush. They offer birds a place to hide from incoming predators such as raptors. The presence of a hiding spot will make the birds more comfortable at your feeder. However, feeders should be more than 1m away from the trees and bushes as they will have the opposite effect and allow terrestrial predators such as cats to hide if placed too close.
Cat Predation If you own cats, do not let them roam free. The use of an outdoor enclosure, or catio, is the best solution for cats going outside. Cats can also be trained to be walked on a leash. Controlling your pet movements outside protects the local wildlife and your cat, and is more respectful of the neighbours. If you decide to let your cat roam, we strongly discourage the installation of bird feeders and we suggest the BirdBeSafe cat collar to reduce the risk of bird predation.
Cats are not natural predators, they are a domesticated species. They have been introduced in our area and are dependent on humans for their survival. There are no wild cats in Canada, only feral cats. Free roaming and feral cats have a devastating impact on native wildlife. For more information, see our document on Cats and Birds.
Entanglement Do not leave long pieces of rope, twine or string accessible to birds as they are very prone to entangling their legs and wings causing necrosis and fractures. Although this is sometimes suggested, do not offer hair to birds during the nesting season. Human hair is very solid and Le Nichoir has received birds severely entangled in hair.
Entrapment Cover hollow tubes such as fence posts. Animals can be attracted by the sounds of insects, water in the tube or are simply curios. They cannot get out if they fall in and will die unless rescued.
Do not use sticky products such as TangleFoot© or sticky fly traps. Birds attracted to the insects on the sticky traps will stay stuck and likely die of dehydration or starvation if they are not rescued. If you find a bird stuck in a sticky product, DO NOT try to wash the bird yourself as you may cause more injury. Cover the parts that are still sticky with paper towel (do not use flour or other powder as the bird may aspirate and could die) and bring the bird to a rehabilitation centre as soon as possible.
Poisoning Do not use rodenticides, even inside the house, as sick and dying rodents can go outside and get eaten by a raptor or an omnivorous bird such as blue jays and crows. The chemicals could then poison them. Studies have shown that birds will aim for poisoned animals since they are easier to catch than healthy individuals. Affected birds might not die but may be affected, making them more vulnerable to predators or accidents. Poison can accumulate in the predator’s body.
Diseases at the feeder
Feeders are known to be a site of disease transmission between birds. Trichomonas, conjunctivitis and salmonella are some of the most common diseases transmitted at feeders. To learn more about these specific diseases, visit the website of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.
Properly maintained and regularly cleaned feeders will help prevent the transmission of disease. However, if you notice signs of diseases in a bird visiting your feeder, it is important to remove the feeders and baths immediately for a minimum of 2 weeks. A sick bird will have symptoms such as swollen and crusty eyes, matted feathers on the face and throat, an overall sluggish or sleepy behaviour and constantly puffed up feathers. If you have questions or if you are able to capture the sick individual, please contact Le Nichoir as soon as possible.
Please keep in mind that some of these diseases can be transmitted to humans. Please wear gloves and wash hands when handling a wild bird, feeders and baths.
Birds of prey at the feeder
When attracting birds to your garden, you may observe raptors hunting in your yard. While you may not like it, it is important to remember that raptors are natural predators and are native to this area. Birds of prey often miss their target and interfering with their hunting can mean life or death for some individuals. Never disturb a raptor that has caught a prey. Note that in most cases, birds of prey found in urban and suburban areas do not pose a threat to pets.
Feeding bread to birds
Bread is filling but does not contain the nutrients needed by birds. It stops birds from eating their natural diet such as insects and vegetation, which keeps them healthy and allows young ones to grow properly.
This is especially important for ducklings and goslings that grow quickly and require good balanced food. Eating improper food can rapidly cause incorrect bone development causing malformations such as Angel Wing.
Angel wing can be caused by eating improper nutrition such as bread, corn or bird seeds during growth.
Once the bird is full grown, this condition is irreversible and the bird will never be able to fly.
In songbirds, malnutrition during growth can cause what is called ‘’White Wing’’, a condition where the feathers grow white when they should not be. This is different from albinism and leucism as the feathers are of very poor quality and cannot protect the bird from the elements. It is also a sign of poor bone development. Birds affected by white wing cannot survive in the wild.
When bread is wet, it becomes sticky and can get lodged in the bird’s mouth or throat, choking them possibly to death.
It can also stay stuck in the oesophagus or crop causing impaction and fermentation resulting in death. This can happen even when the bread is small, dry or stale!
Human habituated birds face many dangers and do not survive well in the wild as they will seek out humans for food increasing their risk of being injured for example by a car or a dog. For the birds’ well-being, we strongly recommend against feeding aquatic birds. However, if you decide to, please consider giving the following:
- Duck, Chicken or Turkey feed for farm animals
- Dried, cracked or frozen corn (winter only, never give to young birds)
Finding an injured bird
If you have found an injured bird or have questions about a possibly injured or orphaned bird, please consult our Bird Help page on our main website.