Deadly Bacteria Salmonella to Bird Feeders

ALERT! Spring is the Season That Brings the Deadly Bacteria Salmonella to Bird Feeders

Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI) has received many phone calls inquiring about birds sick and dying at bird feeders in our area. Thirty plus birds have been admitted this week with low weight and symptoms of salmonella. Many more died in transit to our clinic. The birds affected most are Pine Siskins and Red-polls. They are a small flocking species that live in Canada but winter in our area. Tiny birds, they weigh in at only 15-18 grams. Our recent patients weigh about 10 grams or less.

Salmonella is a bacteria that commonly produces food poisoning in humans. That is exactly what happens to birds at feeders. Salmonella arrives at bird feeders through rodent (mice, squirrels) droppings. The freeze-thaw cycle of spring, incubates the bacteria in feeders. Wet seed becomes contaminated, infecting birds that eat it. Infected birds can pass the disease on to other birds. 

Sick birds appear to be “chubby”, but that is an illusion. Birds use their feathers like we "layer" clothes in winter. The fluffed feathers are an attempt to stay warm, trapping air between layers of feathers. The birds are actually sick, starving and trying desperately to stay warm.

To prevent spread of salmonella, take down and wash your bird feeders with 10% bleach solution. Rinse and dry your feeder before refilling. Rake up and dispose of dropped infected seed from under the feeder. Birds and other animals will get sick if they eat the seed or the dead bird carcasses. Alternate areas where birds congregate to feed. Wet seeds are dangerous for birds as the seeds swell and become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. Using different surfaces that are easy to disinfect, or dispose of is helpful. Tops of Rubbermaid or like containers using care to use the flat surface that does not hold water or moisture. Weighted down pieces of cardboard can work as short term feeding stations.

If you find a sick bird, put it in a cardboard box with a towel on the bottom. Bring it into a heated area. Call REGI at 715-623-4015 or your local wildlife center. Wash your hands after handling the birds or discarded seed.

On another bird topic many birds, such as robins have arrived in our area expecting spring. You can help them through this difficult period by making a mixture of one cup each of raisins, Niger seed, dried mealworms and shelled sunflower pieces with 1/4 cup of natural peanut butter.