Beaverton Bird Watch: Bird feeders: to feed or not to feed

By Donna Wiench, Portland Audubon05 Donna Wiench Bird Feeder

Before going to work for Portland Audubon two years ago, I liked watching birds, but hesitated to put a feeder outside my window. Why make birds dependent, I mistakenly thought. Fortunately, at Portland Audubon, one of my go-to colleagues for bird related information is Dan Van den Broek, our adult education manager and one of Oregon’s top birders.

Dan says that feeding birds year-round is fine.

Feeders can supplement a bird’s diet, but 70-80 percent of their food will come from nature. The best thing to do is plant native vegetation in our yards so birds can benefit from the seeds, berries and healthy insects the plants provide. Dan says feeders are especially helpful in winter when wild foods such as seeds and fruit have already been eaten.

What to do about squirrels?

Squirrel proof feeders are available if needed, and to keep pests away, Dan recommends periodically raking under the feeders or covering the area with compost to reduce mold and accumulation of droppings.  He also points out that using sunflower chips can reduce the waste that falls to the ground.

To discourage a particularly athletic squirrel that would rebound off the side of our house to a feeder near the kitchen window, my husband spread an organic peppery substance bought at a home and yard supply store on the siding and ground. It worked. No more squirrels performing Olympic caliber gymnastics in order to reach our feeders.

Keep it clean!

It’s also very important to keep the feeders clean. Each time a hummingbird feeder is filled, Dan says it should be washed out with hot, soapy water. Tube and other type feeders need to be cleaned about twice a month. The idea is to wash away mold or any food that can become moldy. Mold sickens birds, so if you see a sickly bird, Dan suggests that you stop feeding for a week and disinfect your feeders.

Visit our nature store

There are a number of places to buy feeders and seed, but if you choose to go to Portland Audubon’s Nature store, you can receive expert advice and know that your purchase is helping Portland Audubon protect birds and other wild creatures. Members receive a 10% discount on all purchase.

Portland Audubon is the leading conservation organization in Oregon. Visit us at or call 503.292.6855.