Once again we’re hearing reports of sick Pine Wiskins at feeders in the Pacific Northwest, so we are publishing this article by Sue Trevathan to help folks recognize the symptoms of a sick bird and what to do about it.
As shown in the photo below, the bird on the right is sleek, actively feeding, and alert. In contrast, the bird on the left appears fluffed out, lethargic, not feeding, sitting for long periods without moving, and not defending its perch on the feeder. This bird likely has been infected with salmonella.
Many wild bird species carry salmonella bacteria, but most are not severely affected by it, and often show no symptoms. However, Pine Siskins are especially sensitive to these bacteria, and once infected and symptoms appear, these birds will invariably die within a matter of hours.
Salmonella is carried in the droppings of infected birds and may live on the ground for long periods of time. It is transmitted to a new bird when that individual eats food that has been contaminated by fecal droppings from an infected bird. Feeders can be the prime vector for salmonella poisoning, especially if the feeders and the ground below them are not cleaned often.
So get into the habit of cleaning your feeders with soapy water followed by a bleach solution, and raking under your feeders on a weekly basis. If you find dead or sick birds, alert your neighbors who may also feed birds. The jury is still out regarding continuing to feed after an outbreak, but if you are diligent about cleaning you should be OK.
By Sue Trevathan
Photo of Pine Siskins on branch by Alice Burns