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Steve Foss

The face of salmonella (graphic image warning)

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Our winter birds have about flown the coop, so I went looking for other feeding stations in Ely today, and I happened upon one with half a dozen redpolls that had salmonella poisoning.

It's an ugly thing. The first is the most obvious, but the others are all puffed up in the sun on a warm day, and they did not fly away as I approached, so I suspect they have it too, just not in the end stage like the first one. The second one also shows clear evidence around the bill.

I've included a series of tips on avoiding salmonella poisoning at feeding stations. I got these off a site called talkaboutwildlife, and there are a couple in here I wasn't aware of.

The pictures are after the tips.

10 Ways to Beat Salmonella

By Brent Johner

Salmonella is the bird feeder's biggest enemy. Here are 10 simple tips for preventing salmonella outbreaks in your backyard bird feeders.

1. Clean and disinfect your bird feeders every two weeks. If you keep a lot different types of feeders, break them up into lots cleaning one or two at a time.

2. Use small feeders that come apart quickly and fit in your kitchen sink easily.

3. Wash. Bleach. Rinse. Rinse. Rinse. And dry. Take your feeders apart and wash them thoroughly using a brush to get into the grimy little corners. Soak them in a 10% bleach solution for 20 minutes. Rinse them thoroughly three times. Allow the parts to dry completely. Reassemble and fill them only once they are bone dry.

4. Buy low-cost feeders made of recyclable materials and replace them frequently. Until someone invents a bird feeder made entirely of organic, biodegradable materials, this is the best you can do.

5. Between cleanings, spray all surface areas on problem feeders with pure alcohol. It evaporates quickly and kills surface bacteria.

6. Wash, bleach, rinse, rinse, rinse and dry your bird bath at least once a month. If you use a bird bath heater, be sure to clean it thoroughly too.

7. Resist filling your feeders to the top. Unless you have an extraordinarily busy yard, there is no need to fill your feeders more than 1/4 full. Your busiest feeders may have to be filled to the top, but the rest do not.

8. Avoid wooden feeders or feeders with wooden parts. Salmonella is very difficult to get out of wood.

9. If you are trying to achieve a decorative effect, use small, one-piece stainless steel feeders. Those that fit in your kitchen sink are easiest to clean.

10. Bake your seed in the oven at 250 degrees (Fahrenheit) for one hour before putting it into your bird feeders. This kills any bacteria already in the seed and, as an added benefit, prevents it from germinating.

Bonus Tip

11. If you are too busy to clean your feeders regularly, then don't feed the birds. Dirty feeders kill birds dead.

In this and the second image, the irony is palpable. New green grass and swelling apple buds demonstrate the life of spring, while the birds are moving in the other direction.




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Steve, thanks for posting the article by Joyner. I've noticed some differences that I've been doing in cleaning feeders, although I think the clorine and rinsing is the major factor. Even though I have four wooden feeders that I also clean using the same procedure, I have heard that wood has a natural way of combating bacteria the same way it does at the local meat market. This could open up some good views from others on bird feeding. We get very few Red Polls down here in Iowa so I would not see the carnage. The birds I've seen at my feeders look rather healthy and I want to keep it that way.

Again, thanks for taking the time to make people aware of the do's and don'ts of bird feeding!


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Any bird/animal/person can get salmonella poisoning.

Redpolls are the birds getting the attention this winter, but any and all birds that come to feeding stations, and particularly birds that are focusing on feeding stations for extended periods of time, can build up enough to be poisoned. Spring in particular is a ripe time for the bacteria, with melting snow adding to the moisture in bird feces and the sun warming the melange.

People can get it from contaminated food, but they can also get it from bird feeding stations. How? Kitty goes out and kills and eats an infected bird. Kitty comes back into the house and cleans herself/himself with tongue. Human pets kitty and then raises hand to mouth/nose.

It happens.

If you find a dead bird in the yard, whether it shows signs of disease or not, pick it up with gloves and throw it in the trash, and then wash your hands. Same thing when handling seed from feeders or cleaning feeders. You can pick up the poisoning if you don't wash your own hands thoroughly after you clean feeders.

Decaying bird food is often considered the culprit, and there is evidence this is true (and decaying bird food can cause other diseases), but the reading I've done indicates most salmonella is transmitted among birds through contaminated feces. It's easy to imagine. Birds do their business all over the place, both in the feeders and on the ground, and that gets mixed in with seed, and the birds eating the seed also come in contact with contaminated feces.

So cleaning feeders removes contamination from bird foods and bird excretions.

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Any idea how long it takes for them to die? We are vigilant about keeping our feeders clean but we have had 18 dead red poles between us and the inlaws since last thursday.

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Thanks for providing the info Steve. The birds we've observed here over the winter months have been remarkably healthy. No eye goobers, foot problems, no sick looking birds of any kind. Maybe part of it is our relatively isolated location, part of it the relatively cold, dry winter/spring thus far and that we try our best to keep the feeders as clean as is humanly possible. The addition of a large laundry type sink in the garage when we remodeled a couple years ago has been great for cleaning all kinds of stuff including bird feeders. Grabbing a gallon of bleach, adding 1/2 gal to 5 gallons or so of hot water and soaking the feeders in it isn't that tough. At the farm store where you go to the bathroom in the silo with the orange roof, they sell some brushes designed for cleaning dairy equipment that are about the right size for many of our tube feeders. Rotating feeders is easily done too. We keep a spare feeder or two cleaned and ready or they can be cleaned then dried overnight and be ready to go again in the morning. The suet feeders are ready to come in now, be cleaned and replaced with the oriole and hummer feeders. Much of the material I've read seems to indicate the kinds of feeders we're using may have something to do with a low incidence of disease too. I bought most of them because they were low maintenance so looks like my laziness may once again have paid off. We use primarily tube feeders with no seed trays. All the perches are metal or plastic and the metal screen type feeders we have are a breeze to take apart and clean up. We see a lot of the same thing in the barn with the livestock: Using metal and plastic feeding equiment has sharply reduced the spread of several of the diseases we were seeing when using primarily wooden equipment, pinkeye and caseous lymphadenitis among them. I don't like sending diseased livestock off our operation (makes repeat business a lot tougher) and I don't want to be sending the migrating birds off sick either. Sad deal for everyone.

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Good info Steve!...I haven't come across any infected birds in my travels this past winter in the bog area but knowing the salmonella problem exists, I just may curtail the bird stations in the upcoming years in the bog....maybe throwing seed on the ground isn't the same as a confined hanging bird type feeder but I certainly wouldn't want to contribute to a problem....I like birds to much!...We all learn I guess...Maybe only use the deer carcass's...seed feeding looks to be out in the future...Helping them may actually be hurting them over the long run...

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It's hard to say, Jonny. Feeding birds may save some of their lives, while salmonella may kill some of them. Is it six of one, half dozen of the other?

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