Lesson 980 – Bird Feeders and Chicken Flocks

A neighbor's feeder

A neighbor’s feeder

At my last local chicken workshop, the very last question was one of those “this isn’t really about chickens but I have a question about something else” – questions.

I love those kinds of questions because 1. It shows that the participant has been paying attention and 2. They really want to know more about the care of their chickens. I told him to fire away.

“What about wild birds?”

Which is an *excellent* question and one for which I got into hot water with the chicken community a while back because in my workshops I strongly advise that if you choose to have a backyard chicken flock, you should not encourage wild birds to come into your yard. That means no bird feeders.

It’s one or the other in my book.

The problem with this though, is that if you like chickens, chances are you like wild birds as well. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s don’t get between a wild bird lover and her birds.

I’ve actually spoken to some vets about this topic and those conversations on top of my microbiological background have led me to these conclusions.

There are four diseases that wild birds can typically carry:

  • Salmonellosis
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Aspergillosis
  • Avian Pox

If you have a backyard, you will have birds in it and you will have wild birds fly *over* it potentially leaving droppings that are contaminated with bacteria, fungus, or parasites.

This is a given, unless you put your yard in a bubble,  it’s going to happen.

HOWEVER, if you have a bird feeder in your yard, you increase what is known as the “pathogen load” which increases the chances that your chickens *might* be exposed.  If you have a feeder in your yard, then birds will be attracted to that food. They will scratch (causing some of the food to fall on the ground – essentially ensuring that your chickens will congregate for a tasty snack) and as a result of sitting and eating the food at the feeder, the wild birds will defecate in a concentrated area (sometimes you’ll even find areas of concentration under favorite nearby tree branches.)

Again a higher concentration of bird poop increases the chances that a disease can be passed on to your flock.

So what is a chicken owner to do?

  • We don’t have bird feeders in our yard, that’s my suggestion to other poultry owners. Our neighbors do, but we don’t. We still have a lot of birds in our yard (they find our chicken feed pretty darn tasty themselves) but at least we don’t have a spot where they can stop and eat for long periods of time.
  • If we did have a bird feeder and I was hell-bent on keeping it,  I would put a high fence around it to make sure the chickens didn’t have access to the dropped feed and poop area directly underneath.
  • Speaking of feed, we try to contain our chicken feed in order to keep it away from birds and rodents. All feed is put in feeders or troughs and any extra feed is stored in lidded galvanized steel containers.
  • We don’t have a cat but our neighbors do and it is an outdoor cat. While we have to keep an eye on it with regard to our chickens, I think that it may be helping at the very least to scare off our wild birds. A cat could be a very simple solution (provided it does not attack your flock.)

Look, you’re not going to stop birds flying over or even stopping in your yard, but with a few simple steps and awareness of what could happen, you just might be able to at least limit cross bird contamination.


Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com

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Filed under Backyard Chickens, chicken care, Chicks, Holidays, Inspiration, Life Lessons, Personal, Quotable Chicks, The Family

3 responses to “Lesson 980 – Bird Feeders and Chicken Flocks

  1. I do have cats, several of them, and while they were interested in the chickens initially and eye-balling directly from them has meant absolutely no problems. The smallest chicken, a bantie cochin can defend herself more than adequately. One cat and one of the speckled sussex have been seen “mousing” together – both poised at the same entrance in the barn. Not exactly a tag team but pretty close.

  2. I don’t feed the wild birds because I don’t want my chicken’s giving the wild birds diseases. But it’s hard to keep the wild ones out of the chickens food. My chicken’s free range and I give them enough food for one feeding in the morning. One feeding in the evening if it’s really cold or snowy. The chickens also eat our garden and kitchen leftovers. This keeps the wild birds and domestic birds minding their own business.

    They wild turkey’s will take advantage of food left in feeders too and they will keep coming back! They are so annoying and ate all my grapes last year! I would of ate them if I could of caught them!

    From my experience great advice!

  3. glynnis lessing

    we have a lot of feral cats (15?) share a water dish in the winter with the chickens. none of them bother the chickens and in fact, one was trying to sleep in the coop for awhile last winter because it was so much warmer! Sadly, they DO have an impact on the wild bird population but I don’t think their presence scares off wild birds much. So I don’t worry for the chickens when having slightly hungry cats around.

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