Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rain Plays Havoc with Bird Feeders
September 04, 2010
by Steve Grinley

     With the passing of Earl, now is a good time to think about how rain affects your backyard bird feeders. Storms, such as Earl, can give us some much needed rain, making up for the dry summer we had. But rain causes some problems for birds or, more specifically, for bird feeders. With the wind driven soaking rains, seed in bird feeders gets very wet. As wet seed sits in the bottom of a feeder, mildew and bacteria form. This not only becomes unattractive to the birds, it can actually make them sick. Keeping feeders clean will help keep birds healthy.

     So now is a good time to clean all your bird feeders. Use a 10 percent bleach solution in soap and water and clean all surfaces thoroughly. Use a long handled feeder brush to clean the inside of tube feeder. Use steel wool on metal surfaces as necessary. Take apart the feeder as much as possible to get into those cracks and crevices where bacteria can hide. Some newer tube feeders have quick-release bottoms that make them easier to clean.

     Once washed, the feeder parts should be rinsed thoroughly with cold water and allowed to dry completely. Some feeders and the vinyl coated wire mesh suet baskets can be placed in the dish washer to be cleaned.

Now is also a good time to replace any broken or worn parts. Wood feeders might use a coat of linseed oil to further preserve the wood. Once the feeders are clean and dry, they can be reassembled and filled with fresh seed or suet.

     Hummingbirds and orioles usually leave our area by the end of September. However, you may wish to wait until October to take those feeders down, as some other birds may actually drink the nectar. If they have been maintained properly throughout the summer, they should have been cleaned and refilled at least weekly, so they should be in pretty good shape.

     On the Internet, the question was asked about what other birds had visited hummingbird feeders. Many responses came from the Western United States where there are many species of hummingbirds and, thus, reported visits by many western species of birds. But there were numerous reports from the East and even New England that cited other birds using hummingbird feeders.

     Species in the East that visited hummingbird feeders included Baltimore oriole, orchard oriole, American goldfinch, red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, phoebe, black-capped chickadee, house finch, and yellow-rumped, black-throated blue, orange-crowned and Tennessee warblers. In recent years, a few western hummingbirds, including rufous, Allen’s and Calliope have visited hummingbird feeders that have been left up into October. Of course bees, chipmunks, bats, squirrels, raccoons and bears have also been observed at the hummer feeders

     Continue to put out oranges and other fruits for mockingbirds, wintering robins and bluebirds. Yellow-breasted chats or other warblers that don’t find their way south might also make an appearance at a fruit feeder.

     Autumn is a also good time to reassess your overall feeder situation. You may want to relocate some feeders for ease of viewing, ease of filling in winter or for further squirrel deterrence. Now is a good time to add poles to mount or hang feeders. Fall is also a good time to add a suet feeder if you haven’t had one up during the summer.

     Having feeders clean and in place now may lure some fall migrants on their way south. Less frequent species such as white-throated and white-crowned sparrows, dickcissels, or pine warblers may show up.

     We are still waiting on reports from Canada to indicate whether there will be some natural seed shortages this year, which may mean a good winter for finches in New England. Purple finches, pine siskins, redpolls, evening and pine grosbeaks and crossbills could become more plentiful this coming season. You’ll want to have feeding stations ready for these colorful visitors.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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