Keep your garden birds healthy

Greenfinches are in serious trouble, but together we can help by keeping feeding stations clean to stop disease spreading. This beautiful little bird was a common sight in gardens but has seen a dramatic decline of 63% since 1993. It has now been moved from the Birds of Conservation Concern’s green list to the red list. One of the reasons for the decline is because of a severe outbreak of the disease trichomonosis, which can be spread by contaminated food and drinking water. By keeping our feeders, bird tables and bird baths clean, we can help bring this colourful little character back to our gardens, as well as helping to keep our other garden birds, fit, healthy and disease free. Here’s how!

5 min read
A pair of Greenfinch sat upon a bird table.
On this page

What you will need:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Bottle brush
  • Sponge
  • A scraper (if you have a bird table)
  • A bucket of warm soapy water
  • An animal safe disinfectant spray

Cleaning your bird feeders

Bird Feeder Cleaning

Step one:

Put your gloves on and empty any old food from the feeders into a bin - Do not reuse the food or compost it.

Step two:

If possible, take the feeders apart to make them easier to clean.

The view of a person in green gloves taking apart a domestic bird feeder.

Step three:

With hot soapy water and a brush, scrub and clean the feeders, removing any old food or residue.

A person cleaning their bird feeder in a bucket with gloves on.

Step four:

Rinse thoroughly with cold water, preferably outside. 

The view of a persons hand rinsing their bird feeder with a watering can over grass.

Step five:

Let it dry completely, again ideally outside.

All the parts of a domestic bird feeder laid over concrete garden slabs, next to the grass, to dry.

Step six:

Spray with the disinfectant, following the instructions.

The view of a persons hands holding their bird feeder over a kitchen sink spraying it with disinfectant.

Step seven:

Rinse again and then let it dry out once more before refilling. 

Cleaning your bird table

A group of Great and Blue Tits perched on a wooden bird table in winter snow.

Step one:

Put your rubber gloves on and remove any old food, by hand and with your scraper,and throw it away – do not reuse or compost.

A pair of purple rubber gloves laid on green grass.

Step two:

Fill your bucket with warm, soapy water and use the sponge to clean away any small bits of food and droppings.  

Step three:

Rinse thoroughly with cold water, a hose pipe works well. 

A Blue and Great Tit on a wooden bird table eating seed, surrounded by shrubbery.

Step four:

Let it completely dry, before spraying it with the disinfectant, following the instructions.  

Step five:

Rinse again and then let it completely dry before refilling.

A group of three House Sparrows feeding off of a domestic birdfeeder.

Frequently asked questions

How often should I do it?

At least every few weeks, but ideally once a week if possible.  

How long will it take?

Unless you have lots of feeders, no more than 15 minutes. 

Can I use bleach?

We recommend using an animal safe disinfectant but a weak solution of domestic bleach can be used as an alternative.

Should I clean my bird bath?

Yes, cleaning any space where birds congregate will help them stay healthy. Ideally, clean water should be provided every day.  

What else can I do?

  • Don’t overfill feeders – try and make sure they are being emptied every few days. 
  • If possible, set up several different feeding stations to reduce the number of birds in one place.  
  • Move your feeders, to prevent the build up of bird food and droppings potentially contaminating the ground below.  
  • Avoid putting feeders under where birds roost, such as under trees, to avoid droppings. 
  •  If possible clean away any old food or droppings from beneath feeders too.  

If I see a sick bird or birds what should I do?

If you think the birds have been affected by disease, it is best to stop feeding for at least two weeks and empty any bird baths. Only start feedings again if you are no longer seeing birds with any signs of disease. 

Can I help the sick birds?

Treatment for wild birds is rarely an appropriate action and often it may be in the bird’s interests to be left in the wild. There is a lot more information here.

Please report sickness or death of any garden wildlife to the Garden Wildlife Health (GWH) project.  This is a collaborative project between the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Froglife and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), that aims to monitor the health of, and identify disease threats to, British wildlife.

RSPB Bird Feeder Cleaning Kit

Buy everything you need to keep your bird feeders and table clean together in a pack, for £15.

Shop Now!

The contents of a RSPB cleaning kit.
Share this article