SERIOUS ALERT ABOUT BACKYARD FEEDERS AND DEAD WILD BIRDS

While we humans are dealing with our pandemic, our wild birds are dealings with one of their own.  There is a major outbreak of salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria, according to WDFW veterinarian Kristin Mansfield.

Currently, there is a large die-off of smaller birds, such as pine siskins, finches, nut hatches, chickadees, and juncos. “When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease by proximity and through droppings and saliva,” said Mansfield.  This is in effect, a super spreader event for our birds.

Take down all your feeders, until further notice!  This includes suet feeders.  Those who choose not to discontinue wild bird feeding are encouraged to clean feeders daily by first rinsing the feeder 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. Keep the ground below the feeder clean by raking or shoveling up feces and seed casings.  Do not put out more feeders than you can maintain daily.

Go to https://wdfw.wa.gov/news/help-protect-wild-birds-deadly-salmonellosis for updated info.

“The first indication of the disease for bird watchers to look for is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder. The birds become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach. This kind of behavior is generally uncommon to birds,” Mansfield said. “Unfortunately, at this point there is very little people can do to treat them. The best course it to leave the birds alone.”

If you find a dead bird, please report it to https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/a384e90f69744f2e846135a9ce80027f.

Staci Lehman, Communications Manager for WSDFW had this to say, “We were surprised and delighted at how many bird friends we have all over the Northwest, and their help in containing this bird virus epidemic.  Please continue to report any ill birds so we can map the progression of this disease to contain it.”

This outbreak has flowed down from Canada into the US and is very prominent in our northern counties, Whatcom, Snohomish, Skagit, Island and King.  It is marching through Pierce and south into Oregon.

Following here are some frequently asked questions and answers from the WSDFW.

  1. Hummingbirds: Yes, hummers only eat nectar, and are not as likely to contract this disease because they do not routinely interact with wild birds, but an occasional wild bird might land on a hummingbird feeder, it is rare.  But please, if you feed hummingbirds over the winter, disinfect, and clean your feeders at least once a week.
  2. Family Pets: Watch your cats, especially if they tend to be hunters.  If they eat a dead infected bird, they may become ill.  While a dog usually will not eat a dead bird, it can happen.
  3. Believe it or not, a hungry deer might visit a low-lying bird feeder. Though rare, a deer could get this and become ill.  So, if you keep feeders out with the above recommendations, please keep them out of a deer’s reach.
  4. Raptors (i.e., Eagles) If a large raptor eats a dead smaller bird infected with this, they too could become ill, though larger birds tend to survive this. But be aware of this possibility and of course report any raptor in distress to: https://www.fws.gov/pacific/eagle/all_about_eagles/injured_eagle.html
  5. Finally, you have a winter garden. It has carrots, kale, winter peas and other veggies you would harvest this time of year.  The danger from droppings of these wild birds onto your garden is no greater than that of racoons, deer, and any other wildlife, and rarely transmitted to humans.  Just as always, harvest and thoroughly wash your wonderful homegrown produce.

Marcee Maylin has a degree in Editorial Journalism from the University of Washington and 30+ years media experience.