LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – A number of Arkansans, as well as birdwatchers in other states, are reporting sick birds, primarily pine siskins, at their bird feeders and in their yards. Unfortunately, the act of feeding birds puts songbirds in an artificially crowded feeding situation, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission warns. This dense flocking at feeders creates the perfect condition for birds to pass avian diseases to one another.
One common disease of birds at a feeder is salmonellosis, according to AGFC Nongame Migratory Bird Program Coordinator Karen Rowe. "It is transmitted directly through feed and seed contaminated with droppings from a sick bird. Outbreaks most generally affect American goldfinches, and pine siskins due to their feeding habits of crowding onto the feeding area and remaining there until the food supply is exhausted," Rowe explained.
Rowe said salmonellosis is a common cause of mortality in feeder birds, but the symptoms are not always obvious. "Sick birds may appear thin or fat and fluffed up and may have swollen eyelids. They are often lethargic and easy to approach," she said. "Some infected birds may show no outward symptoms but are carriers of the disease and can spread the infection to other birds by contaminating the feed, water baths and perches with their droppings. salmonellosis can also be transmitted by bird-to-bird contact and the disease is almost always fatal," Rowe added.
Individuals who observe sick or dead birds at or near their feeders need to take immediate action to prevent the spread of avian disease to other birds. Feeders must be taken down and kept down for at a least two weeks. With the food supply removed, birds will be dispersed. With carrier and susceptible birds separated, the rate of infection and bird mortality will decrease.
While feeders are down, contaminated feed should be disposed of in the trash, and feeders disinfected inside and out (perches included) with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). Bird baths should also be emptied and disinfected. Seed hulls, old seed and bird feces should be raked and removed from the ground under and around feeders and bagged and put in the trash. Any dead birds should be put in zip top bags while wearing protective gloves and placed in the trash, Rowe explained. "Please call the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission only if more than 6 freshly deceased birds, that are not decomposing, are found at the same time and in one small area," she said.
After two weeks, feeders can be filled and put out, but only after bird watchers make the following changes to their bird feeding program.
- Spread bird food out to a number of feeders in a variety of locations in the yard. By spreading out the feeding stations, birds will be less concentrated and less likely to come in close contact with an infected bird.
- Clean feeders regularly, at least twice a month, or more often in damp warm weather.
- Use feeders that do not have sharp edges that can scratch a bird and allow bacteria or viruses to set up an infection.
- Replace wooden feeders with ones made of metal or plastic which are easier to disinfect.
- Clean up seed hulls and feces from under the feeder weekly and especially after a rain. A shovel and broom specially designated for this task is a good idea.
- Do not feed bird food that is wet, moldy or smells musty as it can cause birds to become sick.