Making bird feeding safer for wild birds

When it comes to supplementary feeding and the use of bird feeders, what exactly are we doing?

Finches Friends bird feeders

As with all things, there are positives and negatives. On the positive side, we can support wild birds through difficult periods of weather and can substitute depleted insect numbers. In urban areas especially, we can provide sustenance where there simply aren’t any natural food sources. However, this can distort the balance of species, simply because only some will visit our feeders, whilst others won’t. In nature, wild birds will feed over a wide area, species will have different food sources, and will rarely feed together. And, here lies the origin of the disease epidemic we now face. Put simply, we are bringing large numbers of various species together in a single place, they will share disease. That is what happens to us on the tube, wild birds are no different.

Wild birds are susceptible to viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic diseases, just as we are. Common wild bird diseases include Salmonellosis which is bacterial, Mycoplasmosis which is also bacterial, Avian Influenza which is viral and Trichomonosis which is Parasitic. It is worth mentioning that whilst there is no confirmation of Avian Influenza in Passerines (bird orders including more than half of all bird species) we should be really careful, people are susceptible to Avian Influenza and Salmonellosis. Bird feeder hygiene is therefore, of the utmost importance. When cleaning feeders, wear gloves, use hot water and detergent with a little disinfectant and complete this regularly, weekly at least or when feeders are empty if sooner.

For wild birds, most of these diseases will be fatal. A reasonable estimate in terms of Trichomonosis is a loss since 2005 of 6.5 million Greenfinches and Chaffinches, with Greenfinches now endangered and red-listed. We can look in detail at how the Trichomonoas Parasite infects its victims, which gives us the best chance to combat it. It is also worth stating that the steps we take to combat Trichomonosis will have a major impact on other disease vectors as well.

The Trichomosis parasite loves damp food and depending on the food type, it can both survive and continue to replicate for up to 48 hours. The parasite can also be contracted from faeces. A third, and probably the most prolific means of disease transfer is secondary feeding. Infected birds will die over a few days, becoming less and less able to swallow. As they attempt to feed, they salivate infecting the husks and seeds they are unable to swallow and it is this discarded food that can infect other birds at feeding ports, in collection trays, and on the ground beneath feeders.

To combat Trichomonosis, we need to deny wild birds and rain access to the main food store. We must keep the food dry, never allow our birds to walk or defecate in the food we provide and feed them from a perch ensuring that feet do not reach the feed either. We need to arrest waste and not enable the birds to consume waste food or faeces. Finally, we need to clean weekly as a minimum.

Supplementary feeding doesn’t have to be a danger to birds, in fact, it can be a lifeline, but it must be done responsibly and safely to have a positive impact. Knowledge is power and by following the simple advice outlined above together we can reduce transmission of disease and help wild birds not only to survive but to thrive.

Dick Woods is the Founder of Finches Friend and creator of the Cleaner Feeder Range of high-welfare products. After witnessing a shocking decline of finches in his own garden, Woods identified through research that Trichomonosis was the cause and set about creating a solution in the form of innovative easy to clean Feeders which overcome the key problems surrounding feeding garden birds. Finches Friend aims to create safer gardens for all wildlife, designed to minimise the potential of disease transfer and to make cleaning quick and easy. Through scientific research from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) and a lot of common sense and passion to change the bird feeder industry, Woods is working to make it safer for wild birds.