Most people clean their bird feeders and bird baths at the end of the season before storing them away. While this is a very important step in helping to maintain the health of our bird population, it is only part of what needs to be done.
Aside from birds getting sick from eating rancid food from feeders that are not regularly cleaned, birds, especially any in the Finch variety can also contract or transmit a very common bacterium. Finch eye disease or avian conjunctivitis is very similar to human “pink eye” and as contagious. This is a bacterial disease that can be treated if found early enough. The bacteria affect the membrane surrounding the eyes, causing the tissue to swell and become irritated. As it spreads, the bird can become blind and as a result of being unable to find food, can starve to death.
This disease is easily spread at birdfeeders, because sick birds can contaminate the seed by simply visiting the feeder. Sick birds tend to stay at a feeder because they cannot see well enough to fly to another food source, infecting healthy birds that stop to feed. Sick birds are listless and have swollen, crusted eyes. If you notice one of these birds, you can try to catch it with gloved hands or a net, and transport it to a wildlife center or rehabilitator in a box with a pillow case in it.
To prevent the spread of the disease, even if you do not see an infected bird, follow the following steps to keep your feeders and birdbaths healthy.
Every week, allow the feeder to empty completely and clean out any stuck food, bird droppings or debris. Soak the feeder in one-part bleach to 30 parts water for fifteen minutes. Also soak your birdbath. Rinse and allow to dry completely and refill. Many people have multiple feeders that they rotate while one is being cleaned. Encourage your neighbors to follow this procedure to keep your zone disease-free.