Caring for the birds in your yard

If you have a bird feeder or bird bath on your property, there are several steps you can take to care for the birds in your yard.

Avian diseases are a threat to all types of bird species and, if you’re not paying close attention, your yard can become a breeding ground for some of these ailments.

Recently, reports surfaced that a mysterious illness is killing off a variety of birds in portions of the Midwest and South.

This sickness is impacting a variety of birds that frequent backyards and feeder areas including: common grackles, European starlings, and blue jays — species that are commonly found in Wisconsin.

Affected birds can show several symptoms such as the inability to balance, crusty or puffy eyes, or signs of seizures.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first or the last time something like this will happen. In fact, disease is a risk many birds have to deal with, even when it doesn’t make headlines. This is especially true in summertime.

The good news is: there are some things you can do to help keep the birds in your backyard healthy. These procedures are best practice to keep the birds in your yard healthy, regardless of if there are known bird diseases circulating in your area or not.

Reduce or eliminate feeders in summer

Many people choose to take down their bird feeders in the summer months. There are two primary reasons for this decision. The first is that food is readily available to birds during warmer times of year. Removing feeders forces birds to rely on their natural food-gathering skills and helps keep them wild.

The second reason is to help prevent the spread of disease. Many avian ailments are spread through contact. Congregating birds in an unnatural setting can increase the chances that a virus, fungus, or disease can work its way through a larger segment of the population.

Personally, I choose to reduce the number of feeders in my yard from two to one starting in late June. I maintain this setup through early September. I find this to be a happy balance between suddenly taking away a reliable food supply from my local birds while taking a step toward promoting the safety of the animals through minimizing close contact between birds or encounters with surfaces that are often used by other birds.

However, if the situation with this particular disease continues to progress, I will probably take my single feeder down until fall.

Wash your feeders and bird baths

Cleaning your bird feeders and baths is always critical. But frequent washing becomes absolutely crucial in the summer time.

Be sure to regularly wash your feeders and baths in a solution made of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water. Use a brush to help work the solution into all the nooks and crannies.

If you have a bird bath, be sure to frequently change the water between cleanings. Stagnant water can quickly become a breeding ground for all sorts of nasty things that can negatively impact birds.

It’s is also important to keep the food in your feeders fresh. As bird seed ages, it can become damp. This promotes bacterial and fungal growth that can be harmful to flying critters.

Monitor the birds in your yard

Even if you don’t have a feeder or bird bath in your yard, you can still do your part to help prevent the spread of bird diseases.

Take an extra second each day to observe the birds in your yard. Make note of any that are acting oddly or appear to have any sort of crusty buildup or puffiness near their eyes or beaks.

If you notice a bird that fits that description, be sure to take down any feeders or bird baths you have and give them a thorough cleaning. Wait a week or two before putting the feeders and/or bird baths back out and be sure to watch them closely once you do.

Report suspicious-looking birds

If you see a bird that looks sickly, either due to its appearance or its behavior, notify your local department of natural resources office. They will be able to point you in a direction that will help you provide the information to the proper wildlife official.

Also, as tempting as it may be to try to rush to the bird’s aid, don’t do it. For the safety of you and the bird, it is best to not attempt to approach or handle it. Let your local wildlife officials take care of that side of things.

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