Birding Business - September 2013-Fall Tune-Up and Winterizing

BY HANK WEBER | Contributing Editor

DAYS ARE GETTING A LITTLE shorter, evening temperatures are a little cooler.  Leaves are changing.  Birds are migrating.  Signs of fall are everywhere.

Even my auto mechanic has a huge sign advertising his special Fall Tune-Up and Winterizing.  It is not too early to get your vehicle checked and ready for colder months ahead.  Frigid weather is hard on car batteries and engines.  Act now to be sure your car will get through winter without potential problems.

Fall and winter are also the heavy usage periods for feeders.  And you don’t want to have a problem with your feeder during the busiest season, a time when birds are most reliant on it.  And the last thing you want to do is try to fix or adjust a faulty feeder on the coldest, nastiest day of the winter.  A fall feeder tune-up may be prudent.

Cleaning a feeder is actually a simple task.  So is changing the oil in your car.   Although some people change their own oil, most people don’t.  They let a fast lube dealer or garage do the oil change.  It really isn’t as expensive as most other car work.  Doing it yourself just seems too dirty, too messy and just plain inconvenient.   So we let someone else do it.

I’ve found that many customers have the same attitude toward cleaning their feeder.  They know they should clean it.  They know how to do it but they consider it an unpleasant chore.  It is messy and inconvenient.  So they just keep putting it off.  And their feeder never gets cleaned. 

Several years ago I experienced first-hand customers’ distaste for cleaning their feeders.  I had teamed with a local nature center for an in-store program intended to bring customers into the store.   For any customer bringing their feeder into the store and giving a $10.00 donation to the nature center, we would clean their feeder for free.  The nature center provided volunteer labor.  I provided space.  And customers provided dirty feeders, lots of feeders, some of them really filthy.   Many more than I ever imagined.  We raised lots of money for the nature center, and I got extra store traffic.  We couldn’t keep up with all the feeders, so rather than clean them while the customer waited, we were forced to ask customers to leave their feeder and pick it up two days later, which generated more store traffic. 

We have used this program several times, always with similar results.  Regular customers frequently ask when the next one is scheduled.  It is obvious that customer don’t like to clean their feeders.  You should consider trying a similar program in your store.

Last year I created a sign that reads “Ask about Fall Feeder Tune-Up”.  When a customer does ask, I talk about the cleaning day if we have one scheduled.   If we don’t have one scheduled, I talk about the importance of cleaning, explaining that not only does cleaning make a feeder look better, it also prevents the possible spread of disease among the birds.  And it gives us the opportunity to inspect the complete feeder and possibly prevent a problem that is just waiting to happen.

I explain how to clean a feeder and promote some products that make cleaning easier and more effective.  I also give the customers a handout that provides cleaning information.

Most people associate fall with back to school, football, and colorful autumn foliage.  But I think of it as Feeder Tune-Up time.

How to Clean a Feeder
•  Remove all caked-on seed and accumulated dirt from the feeder.  This may require removing parts, such perches and feeding ports, to gain access to inner crevices.  The more disassembly you can do the cleaner overall the feeder will be.  A long handle tool to scrap off crusted-on seed is helpful. 

•  Wash the feeder.  Immerse it in a large basin or bucket filled with warm soapy water.  If you don’t have a large enough tub, put a large trash bag in a corrugated box and fill the bag with water.  Use lots of rags to scrub the feeder clean.  Using an enzyme cleaner, such as Scoot Bird Feeder Cleaner, makes the job almost effortless.  A long, flexible-bristle cleaning brush helps reach deep into tubular feeders.

•  Rinse the feeder in clean water. Then use plenty of towels or rags to dry it.

•  If you are cleaning a number of units from multiple customers add a hang tag to each feeder where you can write an ID number or the customer’s name.  A power washer (borrowed or rented) will speed the cleaning for large quantities of feeders

•  Inspect all parts, especially moving parts.  Be sure the cover or lid fits securely.  All moving parts such as bails, hooks, lids should move smoothly without binding.

•  Check to insure all mounting cables are not frayed, worn or loose.  Tighten all nuts, bolts and screws. 

•  If the feeder has a spring activated mechanism to deter squirrels, be sure it operates easily, without sticking.

•  For best results, air dry the feeder in a sunny location.  Do not refill it with fresh seed until it is thoroughly dry.  If the feeder had substantial caking due to excess moisture, suggest to your customer that they add a moisture absorbing material such as Feeder Fresh, or place a dome over the feeder to reduce moisture.