Responsible Feeding Will Help Keep Birds Healthy
Feeding wild birds is an enjoyable hobby that provides benefits to our feathered friends, when it is done in a responsible manner. Recent news of a Salmonellosis outbreak among some west coast finch populations highlights the importance of responsible bird feeding.
Salmonellosis is a disease caused by Salmonella bacteria. The naturally occurring bacteria is spread via the droppings of infected birds. Sick birds often appear fat and fluffed up and may have swollen eyelids. They are often lethargic and easy to approach. Perhaps because of their extremely social nature, Pine Siskins - a small heavily streaked finch species - are the most susceptible species to Salmonellosis. Occasionally gold finches and other finches may become infected. Common Central Oregon yard bird species such as Chickadees, Nuthatches, Juncos, Jays, Doves, Quail, and woodpeckers are NOT prone to Salmonella infections.
Pine Siskins usually occur in Central Oregon in relatively low numbers. Occasionally, we experience large in-migration events of siskins called irruptions. It is thought that a lack of food at higher latitudes may drive irruptions as large numbers of the birds move south in search of food. Although rare, Salmonella outbreaks usually coincide with Pine Siskin irruptions. We did experience a large increase in Siskin numbers locally earlier this winter and did hear that some people were seeing ill birds and occasionally finding dead Pine Siskins in their yards. This evidence of a salmonellosis outbreak among these finches means that there are steps that all bird lovers should be taking to insure they are providing for the birds in a safe manner. While the bird food that people offer the birds is NOT the cause of Salmonellosis, we want to make sure that backyard bird habitats are not contributing to the spread of the disease.
We recommend everyone provide a healthy bird habitat by:
Cleaning and sanitizing all feeders, poles, baths, and the feeding area.
Clean feeders with a dilute bleach solution to kill any nasty microbes. In addition to cleaning your feeders, also clean your bird bath and wipe down any feeder poles with a bleach/water-soaked rag. Pick up any accumulation of seed shell debris that has built up beneath the feeders.
When cleaning, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.
If you are seeing ill birds, do not put out the feeders that the finches feed from for 1-2 weeks.
If you have recently seen birds exhibiting the Salmonellosis symptoms mentioned above, keep your clean finch feeders and sunflower feeders inside temporarily. Clean suet feeders, peanut feeders, and hummingbird feeders are fine to put out as the species that eat these foods are not among those susceptible to Salmonellosis.
Pine Siskin numbers in Central Oregon have been decreasing over the past few weeks as the large flocks have moved on. With the decrease in the number of siskins, the number of ill birds has also decreased significantly.
If you have not seen ill birds, put out your clean feeders and enjoy the birds.
This is stressful time of the year for birds due to colder temperatures and the lack of naturally occurring food. Studies have shown increased survival rates of birds with access to feeders during periods of harsh weather conditions. In addition, birds with access to supplemental food also have increased nesting success.
Offering healthy food to our feathered friends is good for them, as long as it is done in a responsible manner. So, if you are not seeing ill birds that suggests that there is not an issue with Salmonellosis in your area. Keep your feeders full and all your backyard habitat components clean. Enjoy your birds and pay particular attention to the Pine Siskins and finches. If everyone looks healthy rest assured that you are helping them prosper during an often difficult time of year.