California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Keep Wild Birds Safe

Tips for backyard wild bird feeders

Feeding wild birds in the backyard increases the chance for these birds to develop diseases from closer contact with other birds, or exposure to food and water contaminated by a diseased bird.

Disease that can spread this way include avian Exotic New Castle disease, salmonellosis, trichomoniasis, mycoplasmosis, and avian influenza. Of special concern is the avian influenza strain H5N1.

Avian influenza is a bird disease that is transferred through contact with infected bird secretions and feces (bird droppings). Bird species that visit backyard bird feeders are generally in the Passerine Order, and are susceptible to avian influenza, though not as supceptible as waterfowl and shorebirds.

Individuals who feed wild birds in their backyards can help keep wild birds safe and healthy, preventing the spread of disease by taking the following precautions.

  • Avoid concentrating birds - spread seed over large area in sun rather than use feeders - vary the location
  • If using feeders or bird baths, clean them at least weekly, sanitizing them using a 10 percent solution of household bleach in water, then letting the feeders completely dry
  • Cleanup old food around the feeders regularly (prevents disease, development of mold, and eliminates scavengers like mice and rats)
  • Eliminate bird droppings from around the area (off patios, decks, etc) by scrubing the area with soap and water, then applying a disinfectant. Let the disinfectant sit for 10 to 20 minutes before rinsing it off
  • Replace wooden feeders with plastic or metal which can be cleaned and sanitized better
  • Use gloves when handling feeders, and wash hands thoroughly when done
  • Keep all wild birds away from pet food and water
  • Do not place feeders where humans will eat, drink or prepare food (near the BBQ or patio furniture)
  • Report sick or dead birds

Protect wild birds by knowing disease warning signs

Watch for any of the following signs and symptoms among wild birds. Early detection of signs of disease is important to preventing its spread.

  • Sudden death
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased or complete loss of egg production; soft-shelled, misshapen eggs
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, nasal discharge, coughing
  • Lack of energy and appetite
  • Swelling of tissues around eyes and in neck
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, combs, and legs
  • Depression, muscular tremors, drooping wings, twisting of head and neck, incoordination, complete paralysis