Good hygiene practice

Greenfinch by John Harding

Disease reduced the national Greenfinch population by 35% from 2006 to 2009.

Hygiene - what you can do to help

Wild birds are susceptible to a range of different diseases, some of which are more commonly reported than others. Outbreaks of disease may occur in populations of wild birds wherever they occur, including those visiting gardens. As such, it is important to be able to recognise signs of disease and to adopt sensible hygiene measures to reduce the risk of disease transmission between
individual birds. 

Prevention is better than cure

Unfortunately, by the time it is possible to catch a sick bird for treatment, it is likely to be too ill to help. Treating sick birds without first capturing them is not advisable because there is no way of ensuring that medicines will be taken only by affected birds or in the correct doses. This means that it is far better to take preventative action to stop an outbreak occurring in the first place. It is thought that some birds probably act as carriers of the diseases mentioned in this leaflet and, when they congregate at bird tables and feeders, any food provided may become contaminated.

Feeding station layout

Since the risk of disease transmission is related to the numbers of birds congregating together,one of the best things you can do is to use several feeding sites within your garden and to not just place all your feeders in one spot. This helps to disperse the feeding birds over a larger area and reduces the potential for disease build-up. It is also important to move your feeding sites periodically, especially those where you feed directly onto the ground. Allowing areas to ‘rest’ will help to reduce levels of contamination. Finally, think about where you position feeders in relation to other garden features. For example, it is best to avoid placing a bird table under a tree in which birds perch or roost, since it soon becomes heavily contaminated with droppings.

Keeping things clean

Regular cleaning and disinfecting of bird tables, bird baths and hanging feeders is an important part of good hygiene practice when feeding garden birds. Alongside these measures, it is important not to provide more food than birds need. Ideally, bird tables should be swept clean each day to remove droppings and any uneaten food. Tables and other feeding surfaces should be disinfected on a regular (weekly or fortnightly) cycle using an appropriate disinfectant such as Arkklens, followed by thorough rinsing and air drying before subsequent use. Cleaning equipment should not be used for other purposes and should be kept and used outside. Rubber gloves should be worn for the purpose, and hands and forearms should be washed thoroughly after handling or cleaning feeders.

The ground beneath feeders may be kept clean by regular sweeping.

 If you wish to report finding dead garden birds, or signs of disease in garden wildlife, you can do so via the Garden Wildlife Health survey.

Read our guide to disease and hygiene (PDF, 1.20 MB)