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finnbay

Salmonella

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Interesting idea, Mike. Salmonella is pretty common in the bird world, and I would suspect with the large numbers of redpolls around this winter, and especially gathering around bird feeders, that it's probably being spread quite easily among the population. I'm sure some of the other birders will have some ideas as well.

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I wondered about the suet itself, hadn't thought about the peanuts. I haven't seen them at the suet feeder though. Don't the vets have any ideas? Kind of sad to be losing the little guys just when we have all gotten to enjoy them so much. I just got all the feeders washed and filled with new food again, but I'm afraid it is still the hawk picking off my birds. Yesterday he took one of my cute little fox sparrows!! So far he is leaving the dog alone.

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I have noticed that some of the redpolls at my feeder look terrible and knocking on deaths door. I think the majority of the healthy ones have moved north and the ones still around here are in a weakened state. I have noticed they spend a lot of time sitting around all fluffed up and lethargic looking.

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I have noticed that some of the redpolls at my feeder look terrible and knocking on deaths door. I think the majority of the healthy ones have moved north and the ones still around here are in a weakened state. I have noticed they spend a lot of time sitting around all fluffed up and lethargic looking.

My red polls never looked bad, but I had one finch and one cardinal that were obviously sick this winter that had a marked hunch in the lower back. Otherwise were fluffed up and lethargic as you mention. Have you noticed it? It seemed more than just the fluffing.

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I haven't noticed a hunched back with the ones at my feeders. The red polls early this winter, when it was much colder out, were active and not fluffed out at all so I started thinking something was a bit odd with the few that are still around. Healthy birds will fluff their feathers out to keep warm when roosting or cold, but these birds are fluffed up almost all the time. It seems their wings stick out a little more then usual and their eyes are also dull and usually half opened. I see on MOU others are reporting sick red polls too. I think this is a bigger problem than infected feeder stations. None of the other birds at my feeders seem to be bothered.

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I've seen sick looking Redpolls at my feeders also, plus a couple that have died. We don't have any peanut food out, though. We still have dozens here every day.

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We've had some redpolls with Salmonella poisoning, too. Not many. We've had mixed flocks of redpolls and siskins numbering up to 300 this winter, with no more than sometimes one or two at a time that seem lethargic. I think four or five have died all winter that we know of. We have about two dozen left now, although they don't look stressed.

While salmonella outbreaks can occur independently of backyard feeding stations, the concentrations of large numbers of birds at the feeders can add to the risk.

Here are some excerpts from a Canadian fact sheet on salmonella poisoning in birds (people can contract it, too). It's a short but very informative read, and anyone who feeds birds should know this stuff.

Salmonella in Songbirds

Salmonella is a type of bacterium found in the gut

of many species of birds both domestic and wild. During

periods of stress it can cause outbreaks of sickness and

death. Its importance in songbird populations generally and

the occurrence of outbreaks in this province specifically are

discussed in this factsheet.

Types of Salmonella

Salmonella bacteria are common normal inhabitants

of the gut of many wild and domestic birds. There are

thousands of types (serotypes) though the most important in

songbirds is called Salmonella typhimurium. It is possible

to even further identify the bacteria into “phagetypes”. This

“fingerprinting” helps to show whether illness in different

species of birds or in different geographical areas may be

related.

Salmonellosis as a Disease

Birds carry these bacteria as normal inhabitants of

their gut. Disease can occur in susceptible segments of the

population when stresses increase. Usually the youngest

and oldest birds are the most vulnerable but large segments

of the population can be affected when events occur such

as ice storms, failure in important food sources, etc. The

stress of low nutrition, the higher concentrations of birds

around available food (such as feeders) and the resultant

ease in spread of disease from one bird to another contribute

to large scale outbreaks.

Sick birds will often appear uncomfortable, with

heads drooped, wings out, feathers fluffed up, and may

appear to be breathing heavily. Their behaviour may

change from the normally shy habits of small birds to

indifference. This type of behaviour leaves them more

susceptible to predation by larger birds or cats and leaves

them more exposed to poor weather.

Outbreaks in Newfoundland

In the winter of 1997-98, a large outbreak of

Salmonellosis was witnessed across eastern North America.

Sick and dead birds were seen in at least 15 eastern and

midwest US states and all Canadian provinces from

Manitoba eastwards. The total number of birds that died

will never be known but it would easily be in the thousands.

The species of birds affected included the Common

Redpoll, Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, Purple Finches

and American goldfinches.

In Newfoundland we confirmed this disease in

Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins.

We saw it in communities as far apart as Wabush, Goose

Bay, St. George’s, Gander and Portugal Cove (see map).

With such a wide distribution there were surely many points

in between that also saw this disease.

In addition, we saw a smaller outbreak of

Salmonella typhimurium in House Sparrows in Howley

(February 1999) and Carmanville (March 1999) . In the

case of the deaths in Carmanville it was indicated that out

of approximately 40 birds seen flocking together, 30 had

died over a two week period. It is suggested that house

sparrow outbreaks tend to be more localized due to their

feeding habits.

Impact on other animals and humans

Though these outbreaks are mostly of importance

to the bird species affected they can also affect other types

of animals including humans. Cats that attack sick

songbirds can pick up the illness and possibly pass it on to

the humans that are caring for it. In addition, humans that

pick up sick or dead birds or clean up contaminated feeders

may become infected. In one case in this province, a mouse

died that ate feed that fell from a feeder where sick birds

had been recovered. This mouse had the same type of

Salmonella as the sick birds.

Precautions for minimizing the spread of Salmonella

For people who put out feed for birds in the winter,

it is advisable to monitor these feeders to make sure that

they don’t become a source of infection. This would

include making sure the feeders are clean before they are

first put out and that feed with no apparent signs of mold is

used. Feed that may have gotten damp during storage could

contain dangerous molds. Once in the feeders the seeds are

usually safe if they are protected from dampness and

contamination.

If the winter is warm and there are periods of rain

this could allow bacteria and molds to grow. In particular,

if there is spilled feed on a feeding tray that has fecal

contamination on it which is then subjected to damp warm

weather this could become a serious source of infection. It

would be important then to clean trays regularly during

warmer weather. Once spring comes, birds usually don’t

need feeders so they can be taken down. Before putting

them away for the season they should be properly washed

including the use of a disinfectant.

If sick birds are seen near your feeder, make sure

the feeder is regularly cleaned. As birds can become

dependent on you for food during the winter, the complete

removal of the feeders might not be advisable. For personal

safety, use gloves and wash hands if handling sick or dead

birds. Dispose of dead birds so that they won’t spread

disease.

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I was telling Steve Foss at the swap meet that I had just taken down my feeders and bleached and washed them because I found 1 dead Redpoll and have seen 2 others that were sick and the symptoms are the same as everybody else.

Thanks for the facts Steve because I never even thought that I might get poisoned from it and I did take the dead Redpoll and brought it to the field across the street. Thank goodness I was wearing gloves.

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We were going to take down our feeders here in Duluth on Wednesday morning after noticing sick redpolls on the ground. A bear beat us to it sometime early Wednesday morning. The Duluth paper has an article in it this morning (Friday, April 10). We sure have enjoyed the redpolls this winter and hate to be responsible for any of their deaths.

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It's often not the feeders that are the biggest issue. Unless seed builds up in them over time and gets wet and old, the largest problem is all the seed that falls to the ground. Redpolls and a lot of other bird species are perfectly happy foraging on the ground, and pretty much every feeder operation yields a lot of old wet decaying seed built up on the lawn. That needs to be removed periodically, just as the feeders themselves need the occasional cleaning.

It becomes a bigger problem this time of year. As the winter starts and intensifies, spilled seed is regularly covered up by snow, and the birds don't tend to get at it. It's also frozen solid, so bacteria can't build up. In spring, the melting snow not only uncovers all that old seed, but the warm temps allow it to start decaying.

And it needs to be put in containers and taken out with the trash. If it's tossed off in the woods or at the edge of the yard or in a compost pile, the birds will go over there and continue to eat it.

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Good point about the seed on the ground. That's been the message around here too--to clean up the area under the feeders. Laura Erickson's "For the Birds" this morning was all about the salmonella outbreak in siskins and redpolls. The morning we removed and cleaned up our feeders we also cleaned up as much seed as we could and put it in the trash can. We covered the ground with a tarp to keep the birds off of the area.

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