Salmonella outbreak sparks Utah DWR request to clean or remove bird feeders

Local News

A bird picks seeds out of the snow in a feeder tray, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, in Olympia, Wash. Some areas of the Puget Sound area got more than a foot of snow Saturday, and winter weather is expected throughout the Seattle region through the weekend. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utahns are being asked to clean their bird feeders and remove them if sick or dead birds are discovered due to a bird salmonella outbreak.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says a salmonella outbreak has caused the deaths of numerous songbirds in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho over the last few months. DWR reports receiving an increased number of reports of sick and dead birds near bird feeders in northern Utah.

Salmonella, a bacterial disease that is transmitted through direct contact, is commonly spread when birds ingest feed contaminated with infected feces.

DWR explains that bird feeders can be a source of disease transmission since birds often congregate at the feeders, particularly during the winter months.

Pine siskins, goldfinches, and Cassin’s finches are most commonly affected by salmonellosis, the DWR says, but all birds that frequent bird feeders can be impacted by the disease.

Signs of salmonellosis in birds may include ruffled feathers, rapid breathing, lethargy, weakness, neurological signs, and diarrhea. These symptoms can eventually result in coma and death, or the birds may remain infected over time and become carriers of the disease.

If you see sick or dead birds in your neighborhood, the DWR asks that you:

  • Temporarily take down and remove all bird feeders, water containers and birdbaths for at least a month. This will encourage birds to disperse and will help slow the transmission of the disease. 
  • Use gloves when touching the feeder, clean it thoroughly with soap and water, and disinfect it with 10% bleach solution. Soak it for at least 30 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly and let it dry completely. 
  • Clean the area under the bird feeder and remove all bird seeds, which could attract birds to the area. 
  • If you have more than five sick or dead birds in your yard, please contact the nearest DWR office. The DWR may submit some of the birds for disease testing if the deaths are occurring in a new area. If the birds are not being submitted for testing, please use gloves to dispose of any dead birds into a closed plastic bag and place it in a trash can.

Even if you don’t see any sick or dying birds in your neighborhood, DWR says you can help reduce the risk of disease transmission by:

  • Using bird feeders that are less likely to lead to disease transmission. Feeders made of smooth plastic, steel or glass are easier to clean and disinfect than those with porous or irregular surfaces (like wood).  
  • Using feeders that prevent the seeds from becoming wet because the food is less likely to spoil if it remains dry. 
  • Avoiding feeders that allow the birds to sit on the food while eating, including platform feeders. Instead, use feeders where birds must perch away from the food to prevent fecal contamination.
  • Removing old seeds and feces from the feeder daily. Rake or sweep under the feeder to remove any seeds, feces or shells, and discard them in a trash can where birds can’t access them.
  • Spreading feeders over several areas and using smaller feeders will reduce the number of congregating birds, which will reduce the risk of disease transmission.
  • Cleaning feeders, water containers and bird baths regularly (at least weekly) by removing all the seeds, washing the feeders with soapy water, and then soaking them in a 10% bleach solution. Allow the feeder to soak in the solution for 30 minutes before rinsing the bleach off thoroughly and letting the feeder dry completely before reinstalling it outside.

“While regularly cleaning your bird feeders and baths is always recommended to prevent disease transmission, a more rigorous disinfecting schedule is required during an outbreak of salmonellosis, which is why we recommend temporarily removing feeders and water baths,” DWR Wildlife Conservation Biologist Adam Brewerton explains. “We all love to see wild birds come to our feeders, but feeders that are not properly cleaned can pose more of a risk than a benefit for birds.” 

You can learn more about different diseases that impact birds and how to prevent them on the DWR website.

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