Updated: Mar 8
There are reports flooding in from around the western United States of birds being infected with Avian Salmonellosis. This disease will KILL our favorite feeder birds.
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Before digging in on this dreary topic, maximize your birding efforts by checking out some of our other posts:
When did the Salmonella infections begin occurring?
Reports of avian salmonellosis began in the Pacific Northwest in the final days of 2020. Wildlife officials across the region encouraged birdwatchers to remove their bird feeders and birdbaths until spring.
How far has this Salmonella outbreak spread?
As of March 6th, there have been confirmed reports of Salmonella-infected birds across at least 5 states and 1 province. However, there are unconfirmed reports across most of western North America, as well as reports of other pathogen-infections in the southeastern United States.
Update 03/07/2021: There are reports coming out of Virginia and North Carolina that are likely Pine Sikins showing symptoms of avian salmonellosis. Testing has not confirmed suspicions, yet.
Update (2) 03/07/2021: There are now reports out of South Carolina and Georgia of probable avian salmonellosis. We will update the map to show this.
Salmonella and Pathogen Infections in Birds
Want to learn more about birds? Check out our favorite textbook on birds!
Handbook of Bird Biology
How is Salmonella transmitted in birds?
Salmonellosis is transmitted by the accidental ingestion of Salmonella bacteria in contaminated food or water, and/or exposure to contaminated equipment such as bird feeders.
Is a Salmonella infection deadly to wild birds?
Salmonellosis often causes severe inflammation of the crop and esophagus, affecting the ability of the sick birds to eat and drink. Death is a result of starvation and/or dehydration. Death in such cases can be very rapid when the bacteria enters through the bloodstream and causes lesions.
What are the symptoms of a salmonella infection in birds
Other commonly reported signs of salmonellosis include rapid, labored breathing, shivering, incoordination, lethargy, fluffed-up feathers, droopiness, diarrhea, and convulsions. Birds with salmonellosis may also regurgitate food and water and may 'drool.'
Can these Salmonella bacteria harm humans and pets?
Salmonella bacteria are those found in most cases of "food poisoning." They can cause intestinal distress and diarrhea in both humans and non-avian animals. If you or your pets come into contact with any birds appearing to be sick, wash all parts that came into contact thoroughly and monitor for symptoms.
How can I help protect birds from a Salmonella infection?
This is a simple request. REMOVE YOUR BIRD FEEDERS. If you live in a state with known or probable infections, take your feeders down until these birds migrate away from the area. You cannot clean fast enough to prevent further spread, so cleaning is likely not a viable option. If you do not live in an area where known infections are occurring, look for lethargic and droopy birds. If you see a bird exhibiting these symptoms, take down your feeders and contact a local wildlife rehabilitation clinic.
If you refuse to remove feeders in an area with a known outbreak, you are no longer helping birds, but may, in fact, be harming birds. Birds will not starve without your feeders, but they could starve with a Salmonella infection.
What is the best way to clean bird feeders?
If you do not have sick birds in your region, simply keeping feeders clean can protect the birds that are visiting your feeder. Cleaning a typical bird feeder can be accomplished easily, often in under 10 minutes. If you have multiple feeders, try cleaning them in waves, using a staggered cleaning schedule. Finally, make sure to clean away the hulls and poop below your feeder! Want to learn more about cleaning feeders? Read our post on this topic!
To clean your bird feeder:
Take the bird feeder apart (if possible). While leaving it together may make the work go faster, bacteria, viruses, and mold all love the nooks and crannies. If you cannot take it apart, soaking the feeder will likely become necessary.
Clean your prep area. This often forgotten step can be critical! Many people might clean their feeders in their kitchen. If you do this, make sure to disinfect this area BEFORE cleaning. Why? You have likely had raw meats, including chicken, where you are about to clean your feeder.
Clean your bird feeder using a dishwasher on hot, or clean by hand with hot, soapy water. Boiling water is recommended for the hand-cleaning method. If you use your dishwasher, ensure your feeder can be put in the dishwasher before doing so, and DO NOT wash it with your normal dishes.
Soak the feeder in a dilute bleach solution. This may not be practical or possible for some, but if you can soak your feeder, YOU SHOULD! Create your dilution with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. You can also use a vinegar solution of 1 part vinegar and 3 parts water to soak the feeder.
Allow the feeder to dry. Many will forget this step. Wiping it down with a towel can leave more bacteria on the feeder, especially if the towel is not clean. Also, a towel will not get all moisture off the feeder, only allowing for new bacteria to get a foothold. Let the feeder air dry completely. (Do not use a hairdryer, trust me, it will melt your feeder.)
Check your bird food! Forgot this one? Make sure your bag of bird food is mold-free! You just put all that effort into cleaning your feeder, do not contaminate it with cruddy food.
Fill your bird feeder and enjoy the birds!
What other diseases can harm birds at bird feeders?
There are multiple diseases that can infect birds when visiting bird feeders. A common disease is conjunctivitis, also known as House Finch eye disease. A Cassin's Finch recently visited Flocking Around HQ, and we were forced to remove our feeders until this flock has moved on. While we would always prefer to enjoy birds, if we leave the feeders up, we are being selfish and harmful. That goes against everything we do.
Feeder bird diseases
Mycoplasmal conjunctivitis (often called House Finch eye disease, though other finches can suffer from it)
Aspergillosis (a respiratory disease caused by a fungus/fungi)