An outbreak of salmonellosis is killing off large numbers of pine siskens and other birds in the Pacific Northwest from B.C. down to California. And local wildlife experts are advising home and cottage owners in the area to temporarily take down their bird feeders to help slow the spread.
It’s suspected that a food shortage in the Canadian boreal forest is forcing the birds to congregate along the coast. Bird lovers may think they’re helping out by putting out food for their feathered friends, but pine siskens are a particularly social species that feeds together in groups, enabling rapid disease transmission if a population is infected.
Of additional concern is the fact that avian salmonella outbreaks can transmit to humans and pets (cats, for example, may eat carcasses they find).
In 2020, 127 pine siskens were admitted to the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. with salmonellosis, compared to only 10 in all of 2018 and 2019. As of early-January 2021, there had already been 36 birds brought in, with “more coming in every day” according to the organization’s website.
Sickened birds can appear lethargic with puffed up feathers. Homeowners may spot them perched against windows trying to get warm. Wildlife Rescue posted a video of a stricken birds on YouTube to help homeowners identify a sick bird.
Wildlife Rescue recommends covering ailing pine siskens with a towel or cloth, gently placing them in a ventilated box, and then delivering it to a Wildlife Rescue centre for assessment. Wildlife Rescue stresses thorough hand washing after any contact with potentially contaminated feeders or birds.
Removing sickened birds not only gives those individuals a chance at survival, it helps prevent the further spread of the disease to other birds or predators who may feed on dead specimens. If you find dead birds on your property, Wildlife Rescue recommends either burying them deeply or double-bagging and disposing of in the trash to avoid predation by scavengers.
Wildlife Rescue recommends the following tips to help control this and future outbreaks:
– If you notice sick birds nearby, remove your feeder for at least 14 days
– Clean your feeder bi-weekly with a mix of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach
– Clear away any birdfeed and fecal matter below the feeder daily
– Do not overfill feeders (seed on the ground can become contaminated with fecal matter)