Birds At Your Feeder

By Matt Thomson


It’s that time of year when we’re all settled inside, peering out the window at the various piles of white snow and wondering when it might melt away. 

If one of your winter pastimes is feeding the birds, keeping watch on which birds are coming to visit is important, especially during migratory seasons, but also monitoring those birds for unusual characteristics or behaviour. While we continue to battle our own health emergencies, our feathered friends are doing the same with the rise of H5N1 avian influenza. Not only does it impact our wild population of birds but also the poultry industry as these farmers have to keep extra vigilant that none of their chickens become infected or remain in close contact to wild birds, like near a pond. There is no cure for this flu and is often fatal within a short period of time ranging from 5 to 14 days. While transmission to humans is rare, there is no known evidence suggesting the disease is contagious between people. Few cases of the flu have been reported in wild mammals. Humans can stay safe by avoiding contact with wild birds and their feces. 

Birds that are infected show signs of a swollen head, neck or around the eyes. They will have poor coordination and have respiratory problems such as coughing or sneezing. If they do arrive at your bird feeder, you may notice that they won’t be eating much. Monitor the bird as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from a local wildlife rehabilitator. You may decide to bring your feeder indoors for a few days to help protect other birds that are visiting your feeder. Birds need social distancing too! 

Disposing of dead birds should be carried out with caution by wearing gloves and can be placed in a ground hole, or placed in a plastic bag for garbage collection. Of course you don’t want your pets to find these dead birds. It’s always a good idea to clean your feeder every couple of weeks with dish soap and warm water, depending on how much use the feeder gets. 

If you are noticing birds hitting your windows frequently then this may indicate that your feeder is too close to the house or the window is large enough to mirror the outdoor environment which can confuse birds. For tips on making your windows bird safe, visit Birds that do glance off the glass will require quiet and rest. Heavier impacts are difficult to tell the severity of injuries so it’s best to contact a local wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. 

When outdoors on a hike it’s recommended to keep your distance from waterfowl and avoid hand feeding in order to help protect yourself and the feathered friends during the winter months. Avoid creating feed piles, or tossing food on the ground where birds and other wildlife can congregate. Avoid using breads and nuts as these are not part of their natural food source.