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How do I keep my birds healthy?

A healthy bird population is a vital ingredient for a productive and ecologically balanced garden. While a whole range of factors beyond our immediate control, like extreme weather conditions, habitat destruction and migration patterns, affect birdlife in general, there are numerous ways in which gardeners can help to support their local bird population.

Hygiene is key

The prevention of disease should be your priority and, given that most diseases spread among birds via contaminated droppings, keeping your feeding area and the wider garden free from any build-up of droppings will go a long way to protect the birds in your garden. In addition to regular cleaning of the feeding tray itself, removing debris and droppings from the area under the feeder is important too. If it’s a lawn, rake through and reseed, and if it’s bare ground, dig over every few weeks to refresh the top layer of soil. Remember, however, that no chemical products should be used in any of your cleaning, as these may be toxic to birds.

Remove uneaten food

Seed husks can harbour harmful bacteria, and uneaten fat ball crumbs soon become mouldy, so regular removal of all uneaten bird food is vital. This is even more important in the summer months, when higher temperatures encourage bacteria to develop more quickly.

Uneaten bird food also attracts mice and rats, and the presence of these species increases the chances of disease. A good tip is to check your feeding area just before nightfall each day, remove excess uneaten food and thus prevent any unwanted night-time visitors. It makes sense to evaluate how much bird food is being eaten and to put out smaller amounts if you find there is a consistent problem with leftover food. Little and often is the key to feeding birds safely.

Move your bird table and bird feeders regularly

Another effective way to avoid contamination caused by the build-up of droppings is to move your feeders around the garden. This won’t have a detrimental impact on the birds – they are experts at finding food. It will, however, prevent damage to your lawn. Take the opportunity to check your bird table for any sharp edges or rough sections, as these can be a serious hazard to birds’ feet.

Water containers

Birdbaths and water containers are a common sight in our gardens in the summer months, when we are all conscious that dry conditions can make it hard for birds to find water. However, winter can, in fact, be just as challenging a time for birds, particularly when freezing conditions mean that ponds are frozen over. Provide water all year round, but make sure that it is changed regularly and that containers are cleaned out each time you refresh the contents.

Keep predators at bay

If you’re a cat or dog owner, you’ll know that pets and birds don’t mix. You can still feed the birds in your garden, but just make sure that your feeding station is high enough to be inaccessible to your pets, and opt for a smooth pole that cats can’t scale to support your bird table.

Just a little extra care on your part will make an enormous difference to the birds in your garden, ensuring they are protected from disease, well fed and safe.

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