SPOKANE – Continued reports of sick or dead birds at backyard feeders across Washington and other northwest states are prompting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to recommend people continue to leave their wild bird feeders down another month, or take extra steps to maintain them.
“You can help to stop the spread of salmonellosis by discontinuing backyard bird feeding until at least April 1, to encourage birds to disperse and forage naturally,” said WDFW veterinarian Dr. Kristin Mansfield.
The department first asked residents to remove or clean feeders in February in response to a die-off of finches, such as pine siskins, as well as other songbirds. Salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria is to blame. When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease through droppings and saliva.
The first signs that a bird may have salmonellosis is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder. Birds infected with salmonella become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach. Unfortunately, at this point there is very little people can do to treat them. The best course it to leave these birds alone and report them, and dead birds, to WDFW’s online reporting tool.
Discontinuing feeding of wild birds will not leave them without food supplies during the winter and spring months.
"Birds use natural food sources year-round, even while also using backyard bird feeders, so they should be fine without the feeders for another month," Mansfield said.
If people do not choose to remove bird feeders, please clean them daily by first rinsing well with warm soapy water, then dunking in a solution of nine parts water and one part bleach. Finish by rinsing and drying before refilling. Also please reduce the number of feeders to a number you can clean daily, as well as using feeders that accommodate fewer birds (such as tubes rather than platforms) and spreading out feeder locations. Keep the ground below bird feeders clean by raking or shoveling up feces and seed casings and turn over or cover bird baths so birds cannot access them.
It is possible, although uncommon, for salmonella bacteria to transfer from birds to humans through direct contact with infected birds, droppings, or through domestic cats that catch sick birds. When handling birds, bird feeders or bird baths, it is best to wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterward.
Additional information on salmonellosis, its spread, and frequently asked questions about it, can be found in WDFW’s Frequently asked questions on salmonellosis in wild birds blog.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the primary state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish and wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing and hunting opportunities.