Bird Salmonellosis

A Townsend's Warbler at the suet feeder today

It seems that every day brings a grim news story and earlier in the week a story from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife came out about a virus killing wild birds. This saddens me deeply and totally ruined my day as we have quite a number of feeders out and get tremendous pleasure from watching the birds outside our back windows.

Salmonellosis, also known as "Songbird Fever", usually occurs in the winter months when large flocks of birds congregate together at bird feeders. It affects mostly songbirds and, here in Washington, the pine siskin is cited as a common victim in the current outbreak. 

The WDFW recommends taking down your feeders until February so that the birds will forage in the wild. If you plan to keep your feeders up, clean and disinfect them thoroughly and continue doing this on a daily basis.

We just could not bring ourselves to take down the feeders altogether so I opted for the second recommendation which isn't easy. We have four regular feeders, two suet feeders and two sock feeders. 

Here is what I've done and am doing -

I took down all the feeders and emptied them and discarded the seeds. I then washed and scrubbed them in hot, soapy water. Following that, I dipped them in a bleach and water solution (9 parts water, 1 part bleach or 10% bleach), rinsed and allowed them to dry thoroughly. I only put out 2 of the regular feeders and did not fill them, only putting in a fraction of what I normally do. I put the other two feeders aside and every other day I am swapping them out and cleaning the used feeders again. Also, I raked up all of the debris on the ground under the feeders.

Fortunately, we've had two sunny, spring-like days to do this. The symptoms of this disease is lethargy and a puffed-up appearance of the feathers. The bird will also appear quite tame. I saw this very thing as I was cleaning the feeders. It may have been a pine siskin but I'm not certain. It was on a garden bench and I walked right up to it without it budging. It eventually flew off but it sure was showing the signs that I read about.

We've had a huge amount of goldfinches this year. I'm doing all I can without resorting to totally taking the feeders out. I'm keeping a close look at the birds visiting. Since reducing the feeders, there is noticeably less traffic and we haven't seen any pine siskins. At least I don't think so. I find them hard to identify.

If you are a bird lover and feed the birds, do read the article linked above and take action.

 

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Comments

  1. So sad! Avian diseases can be real problems. We have had experience with House Finch Eye disease and followed the steps you describe. It is hard especially during the winter months when you want to support them with feeders the most. We have added more plants to our garden that support birds for this reason.

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    1. I read about the eye disease when I was researching this.

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  2. This is sad. I do love seeing birds in the garden, but I don't put out any seeds for fear of rats finding an easy meal. They seem to find plenty of food in the back yard as they show up in large flocks.

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    1. Yeah, we've had that problem too. It is always something!

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  3. Wow, a Townsend's Warbler at your suet feeder. That is fantastic to my eyes. I have only seen this species a couple of times in my life when we were birding out in your neck of the woods. It is sad to see this disease killing so many birds. Birds have everything going against them it seems. I applaud you for working so hard to feed them safely.

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    1. We've had one show up for several years now. They don't seem to stay very long although I've been seeing this one for over a month now.

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  4. Ah, that's sad. We've had so much sad lately. So good of you to make the effort to keep feeders clean for them. We all need to think of what wildlife is left and how we can help, before all the wildlife is gone.

    What a beautiful warbler that is.

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  5. I worry about something of the sort happening as a result of our feeders too, even though we’re on opposite sides of the country. So many birds coming to one place makes me nervous.

    Do you have a Peterson Guide to birds? I think Peterson guides are the best, and Cornell labs have good recordings. Siskins have a very distinctive call. We have some here now, which is very unusual. I haven’t seen a Siskin since we lived in western Pennsylvania!

    It sounds like you are doing everything you can to feed the birds and still keep them safe.

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    1. I think it is common on the east coast as well. I have a few bird books but not that one. The one we use most often is a little book about the birds here in the Willamette Valley. I often check the Cornell website but did not think to listen to the pine siskin. I will do that.

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  6. Hello, Phillip, Thank you for this. I did not know about this disease, only the eye one. Unfortunately the link in the first paragraph does not work for me. Here the Townsend's sometimes comes to water and if it does stays around for a while.

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