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Clean Your Birdfeeder: Wildlife Biologists

Pine siskin. Photo: Creative Commons

Wildlife biologists, after learning that a bacterial disease is likely causing songbirds that frequent bird feeders to die, recommend frequently cleaning bird feeders.

State Wildlife Resources Commission biologists have recently received a number of reports that goldfinches and pine siskins have been found dead in yards across the state. Multiple carcasses were tested and the preliminary results indicate salmonellosis.

Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, is a common bacterial disease, often fatal in songbirds that frequent bird feeders, according to the commission. Sick birds may appear thin, fluffed up, depressed, have swollen eyelids or may have trouble passing waste. The birds are often lethargic and easy to approach.

The Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study laboratory that performed the test reported widespread cases of salmonellosis in the Southeastern United States. Between the test findings and number of calls to the commission and partner agencies, biologists are on alert.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are recommending that if you own a bird feeder you should clean it frequently with a dilute bleach solution (no more than 1-part bleach to 9-parts water) and allow the feeder to dry completely before refilling,” Commission Wildlife Biologist Greg Batts said in a statement. “If you suspect salmonellosis, the only option is to remove the feeder completely for a period of two to three weeks.”

Batts acknowledged that removing feeders isn’t a popular solution, especially for bird enthusiasts who may own many, but it is imperative for the health of the birds. Even after intensive cleaning, recontamination commonly occurs where birds are being fed because the disease is shed by feces and some birds are carriers. It is not recommended that people scatter bird seed on the ground either because birds can acquire salmonellosis while feeding together in these situations also.

Batts warned that pets that ingest dead or dying songbirds may be at risk of getting sick, as well as humans who handle sick or dead birds.

“When disposing of bird carcasses, always wear gloves, bury or double bag the animal before disposing it in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water,” he said.

The Wildlife Commission urges North Carolinians to report any suspected salmonellosis cases to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401 or by emailing them at HWI@ncwildlife.org.

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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.