Published Oct. 7, 2000, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Clean-up is part of bird feeding.”
2014 Update: Don’t wait to see a sick bird to remind you to clean up your feeders.
By Barb Gorges
On one of those days I’d been going brain-cell-to-brain-cell with anonymous software engineers, I finally made a break for daylight, or at least a window overlooking the back yard.
Sunlight glistened on dog droppings, inveigling me to go outside to clean up before the next snow and get some fresh air.
Dog droppings only glisten from a certain angle. In our yard, when you wield the long-handled scoop, they blend in with patches of leaves, hide under snow remnants and hunker in shadows of the lawn made lumpy by night crawlers.
One of the lumps was the fluttering remains of a house finch. Probably dead from house finch disease. Its neck didn’t seem broken from a collision with a window, no cats have been seen lately, and the dog’s getting too slow to play with birds.
For the sake of future poop patrols, I decided to rake up the clumps of leaves. It was after all, that balmy, windless afternoon just before Thanksgiving.
And I found another dead house finch. Oh geez. Time to sterilize.
A week’s quarantine is what I tell people. Wash and put away the feeders for a week.
It’s hard to sterilize the back yard. I didn’t do anything about the branches of the spruce where the house finches line up waiting for their turns at the feeder.
But I finished raking, swept the patio and used an ammonia solution to clean other favorite, white-washed perches like the TV antenna tower and the railing by the back door.
The wooden shelf feeder I brushed off and wiped with the ammonia. I even threw some on the patio, where wet sunflower hulls and leaves have left brown patterns on the concrete. I brought the tube feeder inside to soak in a bucket before scrubbing.
As the shadows from the neighbor’s garage put the yard in mid-afternoon twilight, I realized that my Thanksgiving bird count results were going to be rather poor.
I was able to count a dozen house finches and two gold finches that were picking over the lawn and flower bed. But there were no signs of the nuthatches and mountain chickadee that have been hanging around.
Birds have no qualms about using the same location for eating and defecating, resulting in disease transmission in crowded feeder situations.
Scientists using Project FeederWatch data from citizen observers across the country have been able to track the spread of disease and the impact on house finch populations.
The moral is anyone who feeds animals—dogs or birds—is responsible for the resulting byproducts. Just think of it as a chance to go out and get a little sunshine.
Regarding the great tit observed in Scotland (mentioned in my Thanksgiving Day column), my friend Dick Hart here in Cheyenne kindly relayed quotes from his Collins Gem Guide to British birds:
“This common visitor to suburban bird-tables has approximately the same range in Britain as the Blue Tit (all parts of the British Isles, although they are scarce in north-west Scotland); there is also some immigration of both species from Europe.”
Its call is described as a “ringing e-hew, ee-hew” and as “silvery axe-blows.”
My Thayer CD of Birds of North America includes 300 photos of world birds. The great tit looks like our chickadee, just a few centimeters larger, with a black cap pulled down over its eyes.
In fact, its genus, Parus, is the same, and includes 50 species around the world.
Dick wrote, “The various species of tits achieved some notoriety a number of years ago when they learned to pry the foil caps off milk bottles left on people’s front steps and drink the milk down as far as they could reach.
“Unfortunately for the birds the Brits have gone to plastic containers like ours.”