I don't just mean knock out the old crud, or even hose the feeder out periodically.
I mean, really clean them. With a 1/9 bleach-to-water ratio : one part bleach, to 9 parts water.
Is this one of those things that everybody knows about except me? I expect not. So here's what we learned today, and if my readers decide to clean their feeders, even at somewhat less frequent intervals, it's bound to be beneficial.
Today we stopped at our storage unit and a little finch was standing there in the drive. The car driving by didn't inspire him to fly away, so as Larry went to check the unit, I said I'd walk back down the alley and check on the bird.
I made Bird a little nervous but no matter how close I got, he didn't bolt, which worried me. Then I noticed his eye. I carefully picked him up and he stood calmly on my palm, then transferred himself to my index finger and perched. Now I could see both eyes, badly infected. He couldn't see at all, and had gotten trapped here in this tunnel of steel buildings and concrete.
I walked back down to the car -- most of the way down that concrete drive you see behind me -- with the bird perched tamely on my finger. And we tried to decide what to do. The bird got tired of all this and flew away, but in blind random spirals, and landed on the other side of the building where he hopped in desperate circles until we picked him up again, and drove him a couple miles down to the local vet that specializes in wild rescues. As Downy's friend Mojo would say, they are Sooperheroes.
It is utterly cool to have no Boss docking us for getting back late from break time. Tourist season is on in full and Larry had a tedious driving job while I sat with my fingers forming a little cage to keep the little guy from taking off inside the car.
Back home, Larry did the research. This bird had conjunctivitis.
There are undoubtedly many places they can contract this disease, but one source of it is unclean bird feeders, which can harbor the bacteria. As we'd just seen, an otherwise healthy bird can die without the use of its sight.
It had never occurred to us to actually bleach-out the feeders, ever, much less every month.
What we're thinking about doing is getting a second feeder for each station, so we can switch them out without leaving the station unsupplied for a couple days.
We've even found that they take awhile to accept a new feeder placed in the same spot as one it replaced, and, though I'm guessing, I figured the new store smell had to weather off. So even at one-tenth strength, wild birds might reject the bleach smell and it probably needs to be thoroughly soaked away after the germs have been soaked away.