(Pine siskin, 2017 photograph by Mark Wangerin)
Back in January, we reported on a warning about bird feeders, and a recommendation that you remove yours to keep a deadly outbreak of salmonellosis from spreading among birds, particularly Pine Siskins, which have been gathering in larger-than-usual numbers. This week, a reader emailed to ask if it’s safe to put the feeders back up again. We contacted state Department of Fish and Wildlife‘s Chris Anderson – who gave this presentation a few weeks after the original warning – and he pointed to a recent update of their original post:
UPDATE: A drop in the number of reports of sick or dead birds across Washington and other northwest states means backyard bird feeders can be put up again around April 1, but with caution.
An outbreak of salmonellosis in pine siskins and other songbirds had WDFW staff asking people with bird feeders and baths to put them away for a few months earlier this winter to discourage wild birds from congregating and potentially passing salmonella bacteria to each other. When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease through droppings and saliva.
Since WDFW first put out word of the outbreak in early January, reports of sick or dead birds have decreased substantially, but they are still coming in.
“The disease is still circulating, and we could see the numbers jump back up if we ease precautions too quickly,” said WDFW veterinarian Dr. Kristin Mansfield. “If you usually feed birds at multiple feeders, consider putting up only one or two – widely spaced on your property – to start.”
You may also wish to use feeders that accommodate fewer birds (such as tubes rather than platforms) and continue to keep the ground below bird feeders clean by raking or shoveling up feces and seed casings that could spread salmonella. Provide only enough feed to last a day or two — in support of regular cleaning efforts within that same span; and to help keep wastage underneath the feeders down and manageable for cleaning under feeders. These measures assist in spreading birds out and keeping seed fresh and feeders clean. There is a possibility that handling infected contaminated bird feeders can spread the salmonella bacteria to humans. When filling or cleaning feeders, be sure to wear disposable gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterward.
The state still wants to hear from you if you see a sick or dead bird – you can report it here.