Native Songbird Care & Conservation
Saving Native Songbirds One Bird at a Time.

Pine Siskin Salmonellosis Outbreak

PLEASE NOTE:  Although the public was encouraged to keep feeders down until April 1, we are asking our community to keep feeders down until the end of April.  Pine Siskins are now leaving for their breeding grounds further North, however, we are continuing to receive goldfinches and house finches sick with salmonellosis.  A few additional weeks of keeping feeders down will provide time for sick individuals to die out of the local population and allow the remaining healthy individuals to progress with the breeding season.  And please remember, our native songbirds breed in the spring and summer because that is when their natural foods are most abundant.  They are not dependent on feeders.  

Following their arrival to our area this winter, the Pine Siskins are experiencing a Salmonellosis outbreak.  Sadly, this is a typical and expected event during an ‘irruption year’ of siskins.  Pine Siskins are especially susceptible to Salmonellosis.  We have received many calls from our Sonoma County community regarding ill and dead Pine Siskins and we have received many sick patients at our hospital this week . 
Salmonellosis is a deadly disease that spreads rapidly through Pine Siskin populations.  Eventually the disease spreads to goldfinches and other finch species. An epidemic usually begins when birds congregate at bird feeders, or when they use improperly-cleaned bird baths. Typical signs of the illness are lethargy, puffy or fluffed up appearance, and occasionally swollen/irritated eyes.
Please remember feeding the birds comes with responsibility.  Help keep Pine Siskins and other songbirds safe and healthy by following our Songbird-Safe Bird Feeding Guidelines below.  If you have found an ill or injured songbird or have questions about the outbreak, please contact us at 707-484-6502.
Owners of free-roaming cats, please take note:  Felines preying on birds infected with salmonella can contract the bacteria.  This is one of many good reasons to keep cats indoors or contained in a catio.  Containing cats is safer for them and safer for our native songbirds and other small wildlife.

NSCC's Songbird-Safe Bird Feeding Guidelines
First, please consider using native plants to feed and sustain our native songbirds.  Native plants are a superior choice to feed birds than bird feeders.  Native plants provide seeds, berries, nectar and, most importantly, INSECTS.  Creating backyard habitat with native plants supports songbirds through each stage of their annual life cycle, from breeding to migration, and also attracts a greater diversity of birds.  For inspiration, please take a look at our list of favorite native plants for songbirds, pollinators and other wildlife.
If you do use bird feeders, please continue enjoying your avian neighbors, but follow these guidelines to help keep them healthy and safe.

Prevent the spread of disease.  Bird feeders are a primary reservoir for several avian diseases, including Salmonellosis, which spread rapidly among local songbird populations.  If you encounter sick or dead songbirds in your backyard, immediately remove bird feeders and bird baths.  Do not rehang feeders for at least 3 weeks after the last sick or dead bird is seen in your yard.  Properly clean and disinfect your feeders before refilling and returning them to your yard. Bird baths can be refilled after cleaning and disinfection, but should be cleaned and refilled on a daily basis.
Follow our Songbird-Safe Bird Feeder and Bath cleaning instructions as part of your regularly scheduled feeder maintenance to keep your songbird neighbors healthy.
Songbird-Safe Bird Feeder Cleaning Instructions
Birdfeeders should be cleaned and disinfected once a week regardless of disease outbreaks.  (Tip:  Keep two of the same style bird feeders so that you can put out a fresh clean feeder while you're cleaning the dirty feeder.)  Use soap, water and a scrub brush to clean feeders.  Rinse out all soap and debris before disinfecting. To disinfect, immerse clean feeders in a 1:9 bleach:water solution.  Soak 10 minutes and rinse thoroughly.  Alternatively, the same solution can be made and stored in a spray bottle.  Spray the solution on the inside and outside of the feeder and let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing.  Allow the feeder to dry fully before refilling (a dry feeder will deter mold growth on seeds).
Songbird-Safe Bird Bath Cleaning Instructions
Bird baths should be emptied daily and refilled with fresh water regardless of disease outbreaks.  Clean and disinfect once a week by scrubbing with soap and water, rinse and disinfect with bleach solution.  Fill or spray the bath with a 1:9 bleach:water solution, cover the bath with a board to prevent birds from entering and let sit for 10 minutes. Rinse the bath very thoroughly before refilling with fresh water.

Other Important Steps to Keep Songbirds Safe
Keep yourself safe.  Wear gloves to prevent skin contact with pathogens and bleach.  Wear a mask to prevent the accidental ingestion of fecal matter while cleaning feeders and baths.  Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with a sick or dead bird or dirty bird feeder or bird bath. 
Sweep up spilled seed and debris beneath feeders.  This reduces the potential for ground-foraging birds to come into contact with infectious fecal matter and also helps discourage the presence of rodents.
Put feeders in cat-free zones.  Please do not attract birds with bird feeders if there are free-roaming cats in your neighborhood.  If you have neighbors with free-roaming cats, encourage them to contain their cats and explain the merits and good citizenry of doing so.    

Reduce the risk of window collisions. Window strike mortalities can be reduced by moving feeders within 3' of the window or farther than 30'. When feeders are close to a window, a bird leaving the feeder cannot gain enough momentum to do harm if it strikes the window.  Here's more information to help prevent window collisions.
Do not feed predators. Species such as crows, jays, ravens and squirrels are predators of songbirds, especially their eggs and young.  These species put a tremendous amount of pressure on native songbirds by causing increased nest failure and creating an imbalance in the local ecosystem.  Remove bird feeders if they’re attracting high numbers of predatory species or select a feeder style that excludes predatory species.  Avoid feeding peanuts, corn and sunflower seed in the shell.    

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