Because bird feeders continue to be a way the disease salmonellosis is spread among birds, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has extended a recommendation to keep feeders down until at least April 1.
“We have a reporting tool where we have been asking people to get online and report their dead or sick birds,” said Fish and Wildlife communications manager Staci Lehman. “Then we also work with wildlife rehabilitators across the state who get birds brought to them.”
Both sources have confirmed reports of sick or dead birds at backyard feeders throughout the state. That has prompted the department to recommend that wild bird feeders be kept down another month or extra steps be taken to maintain them.
“Those reports are still coming in, and those reports have been coming in steadily,” Lehman said.
Fish and Wildlife first asked residents to remove or clean feeders in February as a response to a die-off of finches, such as pine siskins, as well as other songbirds.
“You can help to stop the spread of salmonellosis by discontinuing backyard bird feeding and encourage birds to disperse and forage naturally,” Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Dr. Kristin Mansfield said in a news release.
Salmonellosis is a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria. When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease through droppings or saliva.
In 2007, Lehman said, an outbreak led the department to act.
“That one started in June and it lasted until October,” Lehman said. “It’s our hope this one will not be that long.”
Discontinuing the feeding of wild birds will not leave them without food supplies during the winter and spring months.
“With the weather starting to warm up, by April 1 things should be blooming and there will be plenty of other natural food sources,” Lehman said. “So even if people put their feeders up, generally, the birds won’t flock together as much because the birds will have other options to feed and can spread out.”
If birders leave feeders up, Fish and Wildlife asks that cleaning be done to the feeder itself as well as around it, that gloves be worn and hands washed afterward.
While uncommon, the salmonella bacteria can be spread to humans by direct contact with infected birds, droppings or through domestic cats that catch sick birds.
Bird baths should also be drained so as not to attract birds.