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Bird Feeders Pose Threat to Songbirds

Feeding wild birds is a favorite pastime for many local residents.  Unfortunately, improper feeding can increase the chances for the birds to develop diseases from closer contact with other birds, or exposure to food and water contaminated by a diseased bird.

Salmonelllosis, a very common disease, is transmitted directly through fecal-contaminated food products.  Outbreaks most generally affect Common Red-polls, American Goldfinches, and Pine Siskins due to their feeding habits of crowding onto the feeding area and remaining there until the food supply is exhausted; they are exposed for long periods to carriers and contaminated ground.  The disease is almost always fatal.

Signs range from sudden death to gradual onset of depression over 1 to 3 days, accompanied by huddling of the birds, fluffed-up feathers, unsteadiness, shivering, loss of appetite, markedly increased or absence of thirst, rapid loss of weight, accelerated respiration and watery yellow, green or blood-tinged droppings. The vent feathers become matted with excreta, the eyes begin to close and, immediately before death, some birds show apparent blindness, incoordination, staggering, tremors, convulsions or other nervous signs. Most people calling about die-offs report finding dead birds around their feeder and an occasional "sick-acting" bird.

Individuals can prevent the spread of Salmonellosis by taking the following precautions.

  • Avoid concentrating birds – spread seed over large areas in sun rather than use feeders – vary the locations.
  • If using feeders or bird baths, clean them at least weekly, sanitizing them using a 10 percent solution of household bleach in water, then letting the feeder completely dry.
  • Clean up old food around the feeders regularly – prevents disease, development of mold, and eliminates scavengers like mice and rats.
  • Eliminate bird droppings from around the area – off patios, decks, etc. – by scrubbing the area with soap and water, then applying a disinfectant.  Let the disinfectant sit for 10 to 20 minutes before rinsing it off.
  • Replace wooden feeders with plastic or metal which can be better cleaned and sanitized.
  • Use gloves when handling feeders and wash hands thoroughly when done.
  • Keep all wild birds away from pet food and water.
  • Do not place feeders where humans will eat, drink or prepare food (near the BBQ or patio furniture.

Individuals who find dead or sick birds around their feeders should immediately take the feeders down and keep them down for 2 to 4 weeks.  With the food supply removed, birds will be dispersed, and carrier and susceptible birds separated.

Many times, home owners are reluctant to take down their feeders saying, “The birds will starve. Or,  I’ll miss not seeing the birds.”  Salmonellosis is a deadly disease for birds; if left unchecked, it can cause the death of thousands of the very birds we love to watch.  By being responsible bird feeders, many bird lives can be saved.

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