Just after posting my bird feeder diatribe, I received a bit of synchronicity in the form of an email from Val Cunningham, the bird columnist in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune. What great timing. I never expected to receive such a complete and helpful answer.
If you’re a “birder” – read on.
I had written to her: “We clean our feeders regularly, but with the rain I’m now concerned about seed constantly getting wet. Does it all need to be tossed out? Can it be dried without risk of some bacterial contamination? It seems too expensive to have to toss out so much seed after each rain.”
And she answered: “Hello Diane: That’s an excellent question, and one that not everyone gives some thought to. Yes, wet seed can become dangerous, once it sits for a while and/or heats up as the temperature warms up. Funguses and bacteria can invade the seed and feeders and sicken and even kill birds that consume the seed.
I check my feeders after each rainstorm in order to prevent problems. I turn the tube feeders upside down and see if there are any clumps. If there are, and the seed hasn’t sat around for long, no more than 12 hours or so, then I pour the seed into a big plastic container, sift or dig out the clumps, toss them in the trash, and refill the feeder (as long as it’s not wet inside) , using the same seed.
I think those cloth bags are fine UNTIL they get wet, then you’re right, they present a threat to birds. It would be good to bring them onto a porch or into the garage when rain threatens, otherwise you’ll have to toss any seed that got wet (which will be most or all of it). I suppose you could spread the seed out on a cookie sheet and heat it in the oven, maybe a 250 degrees until it’s dry, as an alternative.
If you have tray feeders that are exposed to the elements, these, too, could be brought indoors when rain is in the forecast (just don’t bring them into the house, you do not want to take a chance on an Indian meal moth outbreak!), or you might seek out tops or roofs for your feeders. And domed-style feeders do a good job of keeping rain out, unless it’s blowing sideways.
Heavy wire peanut feeders are another danger, wet peanuts can become moldy and fungus-y and are very lethal to birds. Again, I’d bring these in when rain or snow threatens, or toss out the nuts once they become wet, (they can last a day or so when wet, but birds won’t find them as palatable).
Yes, the elements can be a challenge, but maybe some forethought and some dashing around before storms can salvage much of your seed, which, I realize, is expensive and not to be wasted. Hope this helps.”
OKAY! NOW I MUST DASH!