Following Outbreak of Songbird Deaths, Bird Feeders Still OK in Illinois -- And Earlier in Fall Is Better Than Later

Following Outbreak of Songbird Deaths, Bird Feeders Still OK in Illinois — And Earlier in Fall Is Better Than Later

Following the recent outbreak of songbird deaths, Illinois officials are not currently recommending removing feeders, but stress cleaning and sanitizing feeders every two weeks and hummingbird feeders weekly.

In July, hundreds of songbirds died in Indiana from a mysterious illness, and birds in at least six states in the Midwest, the south and the District of Columbia became ill or died from a thus-far unidentified disease that affects neurological function and causes crusting, swelling and blindness to birds’ eyes.

The species most affected include Blue Jay, American Robin, Common Grackle, Northern Cardinal and European Starling, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in a news release.

The July outbreak prompted Indiana wildlife officials to ask residents to remove all bird feeders. But this week the Indiana DNR lifted its recommendation for Indiana residents to refrain from feeding birds in all counties.

For people who do put out bird feeders — or who are considering putting out a feeder this fall — experts at the University of Illinois Extension are suggesting that you start as soon as possible.

bird seed

Photo by Sue Styer. To avoid pests, store birdseed in covered containers in a cool, dry place such as inside a cabinet in a back porch or garage.

“Feeding the birds means starting earlier than later,” said Richard Hentschel, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator serving DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties. “Birds need to know early on that there will be something to eat on a regular basis if you want them to hang around in your yard.”

Buying birdseed that has a little bit of everything for every bird can add up to a lot of wasted seed on the ground. Consider putting out seed that will attract only your favorite birds. This can be more cost-effective as the unwanted seed will feed four-legged critters, not to mention make a mess on the patio or in the lawn.

The type of birdseed chosen will also help determine the kind of feeder needed. Typically, feeders are designed for the size of seed being distributed — thistle versus sunflower, for example.

“You may end up with several feeders catering to a variety of your favorite birds,” Hentschel says.

Birdseed can be a feeding source for pantry pests such as the Indian Meal Moth, so keep seed securely covered and consider storage in a cool garage.

Most think of feeding birds, fewer think about supplying water, too. Consider birdbaths that have a heating element to keep them from icing over in the winter.

SOURCE: Illinois Extension news release written by Richard Hentschel, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, media reports