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Watching... and COUNTING... Birds!

Keep birdfeeders clean to prevent the spread of disease as they feed.

Now I’m not complaining about the weather, but the open conditioins we’ve had most of this winter has not been great for birdwatching. They don’t seem to come to our feeders when the weather is nice. But my wife and I noticed an increase in activity any time we get an inch or two of snow on the ground. We enjoy being able to sit at the dining room table and see all the different birds that come to the feeders.

Keep Feeders Clean

Based on our experiences, here are a few suggestions if you are feeding our feathered friends. Anyone who feeds birds knows how easy it is for seed to turn moldy in feeders. Moisture from snow or rain can leak into feeders and turn bird seed into potential sources of illness for birds. You should keep feeders clean to help prevent the spread of disease to backyard birds.

Clean and disinfect feeders on a regular basis, taking care to scrape out old moldy seed that collects in corners. Wash feeders in warm water with dish soap and rinse. Disinfect with a solution of one part liquid chlorine bleach to nine parts warm water. Make sure feeders are completely dry before refilling with seeds.

It’s important to keep feeding birds once you start so they don’t become dependent on you as a food source, only to run out of food during periods of severe weather like we usually get some time over winter. You know, the kind of days you really don’t want to go outside to fill the bird feeders.

They Also Need Water

Also, if possible, provide water for birds. This is extremely important during the winter because other sources of water may not be available. It seems chilly, but birds regularly use our heated bird baths. Besides water to drink, they use it to help keep their feathers clean which makes them, for lack of a better term, fluffier, which gives them better insulation against bitter cold temperatures.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Now for anyone who really enjoys bird watching, there’s an event in February you won’t want to miss ...and you can take part from the comfort of your own home. The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held on February 17–20. Participants are needed to count birds in their yards, neighborhoods, or other locations. Simply tally birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count, then go to and enter the highest number of each species you observe at any one time.

This program is conducted across the United States and Canada. Coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada, the count provides an instant snapshot of birdlife around the world. Organizers hope to receive more than 160,000 checklists during the event. Also, you can watch as the tallies come in at

Whether you observe birds in your backyard, a parks, or a wilderness area, the Great Backyard Bird Count is an opportunity to share their results at It’s fun and rewarding for people of all ages and skill levels--and it gets people outside... or you can watch from inside, too!

Information from the Great Backyard Bird Count participants is even more valuable as scientists  try to learn how birds are affected by environmental changes. The information you send in can provide the first sign that individual species may be increasing or declining from year to year. It shows how a species’ range expands or shrinks over time. A big change, noted consistently over a period of years, is an indication that something is happening in the environment that is affecting the birds and that should be followed up on.

So, to take part in this activity for the birds, go to for online instructions and tally sheets... then enjoy our feathered friends. My wife and I participated for many years... it’s easy and it’s fun! Just go to for all the information you will need.

Female pheasant counted and photographed, as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count, on John Wilson's acreage.
Image of John Wilson
John Wilson
Extension Educator - Innovative Cropping and Water Systems

Location: Based in Burt County with responsibilities in Thurston and Dakota counties; statewide responsibilities with soybean cyst nematode education
Program Areas: Crop Production, particularly corn, soybeans & alfalfa; integrated pest management, particularly insects, diseases & nematodes
Focus Area: Soybean cyst nematodes and soybean diseases
Education: BS and MS degrees in agronomy (crop production option) from University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Contact John at:
Burt County Extension
111 N. 13th St, Ste 6
Tekamah NE 68061-1098
(402) 374-2929