Jul 6th, 2021

Birdfeeders: Take Down Your Feeders

UPDATE 12.31.21

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources has retracted the temporary ban on feeding activities, so people can resume normal activity. However, they are recommending frequent (i.e. at least every 3-4 days) cleaning and disinfecting of all feeders placed back outdoors as a means to prevent the spread of contamination and infection among birds that visit the feeding area.


People often think of bird feeders as something good we can do to help out the birds, but did you know that bird feeders are also a place where birds can catch diseases? Birds tend to congregate at birdfeeders (or even birdbaths) and this is how disease can spread.

female cardinal on a branch -- but not at a birdfeeder

Birdfeeders aren’t usually necessary for birds to survive.

The Audubon Society of Richmond and Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, along with USGS and Partners Investigating DC Area Bird Mortality Event have asked bird lovers in the Eastern United States to take down their bird feeders (and hummingbird feeders) until they can solve the mystery of what is causing hundreds of birds to become sick and die. Scientists do not know what this mystery illness is, although they have ruled a few things out. The birds seem to have neurological symptoms, have trouble with balance or flying and may have crusty eyes or become blind.

…The state and District agencies recommend the following standard precautions:

  • Cease feeding birds until this wildlife morbidity/mortality event subsides;
  • Clean feeders and birdbaths with a 10% bleach solution (one-part bleach mixed with nine parts water), rinse with water and allow to air dry;
  • Avoid handling birds unless necessary. If you do handle them wear disposable gloves. If picking up a dead bird, place an inverted plastic bag over your hand to avoid direct contact with the bird; and
  • Keep pets (including pet birds) away from sick or dead wild birds as a standard precaution.

The Virginia Cooperative Extention has also now issued a statement (PDF) explaining not all birds are affected but songbirds, including blue jays, starlings, finches and grackles, but also robins and cardinals have been the most affected.

If you encounter sick or dead birds report them immediately to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources so that they can track and study the illness. If you must remove dead birds, use gloves and seal them in plastic bags and discard of them with your trash.

Oh, and don’t worry about the birds not getting enough food. A literature review by former Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Intern Sarah Coffey last fall showed there is no clear benefit to the birds in feeding them and that it may even be harmful in situations of disease transmission.  Here at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, we help the birds by creating a diverse ecosystem and leaving seed heads on flowers at the end of summer so they can forage.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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