OLYMPIA - Recent reports of sick or dead birds at backyard feeders has prompted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to recommend that people temporarily discontinue bird feeding, or take extra steps to maintain feeders.
Laboratory analysis of bird carcasses has confirmed salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria, said WDFW veterinarian Kristin Mansfield.
“Salmonellosis is probably the most common avian disease at feeders in Washington,” Mansfield said. “The disease afflicts species such as finches, grosbeaks and pine siskins that flock together in large numbers at feeders and transmit the disease through droppings.”
The first indication of the disease is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder, Mansfield said.
“The birds become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach,” she said, “but there is very little people can do to treat them.”
About four dozen reports of dead birds have been received over the past several weeks involving pine siskins, goldfinches and purple finches in both eastern and western Washington. Carcasses of purple finches and pine siskins were sent to a Washington State University laboratory for testing that confirmed the disease.
It’s possible, although uncommon, for people to be become sick from the salmonella bacteria through direct contact with infected birds, bird droppings, or through pet cats that catch sick birds. Ron Wohrle, Environmental Health Veterinarian for the Washington Department of Health (DOH) notes that more information on human health and salmonella is available at http://www.doh.wa.gov/EHSPHL/factsheet/salmonel.htm.
People who handle birds, bird feeders or bird baths should wear gloves and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards, Mansfield said.
Mansfield advised stopping backyard bird feeding for at least a few weeks, if not for the remainder of the summer, to encourage birds to disperse and forage naturally.
“Birds use natural food sources year-round, even while using bird feeding stations,” she said.
Bird enthusiasts who choose to continue feeding should reduce the number of feeders they maintain and spread them out, use feeders that accommodate fewer birds (using tubes rather than platforms), and clean feeders daily with a 1-to-10 solution of chlorine bleach and warm water. Since water attracts birds during warm, dry weather, keeping bird baths and fountains clean is also important, Mansfield said.
Reports of dead birds in Washington can be made to the Dead Bird Reports line, 1-800-606-8768.
For more information on salmonellosis in birds, see National Wildlife Health Center information at http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/other_diseases/salmonellosis.jsp.