WildCare -- February 2010 eNewsletter
Living with Backyard Birds
Songbirds are a wonderful addition to any yard, but sometimes they nest in inconvenient or inappropriate places. Native birds and their nests are protected by the Migratory Bird Act, so once a nest is in place it's not only inhumane to disrupt it, it's also against the law.
The graphic below illustrates how to avoid problems with nesting birds before nests are built. It's almost spring, so be sure to follow these preventative guidelines before nesting season begins in early March!
Keep Feeders Clean
WildCare recommends against feeding any wildlife, even birds, but we understand that people love their bird feeders. Click to learn how you can sanitize your feeders and bird baths and prevent the spread of diseases like Avian Pox and Salmonella to your visiting birds. Then take our Clean Feeder Pledge!
Prevent the Spread of Salmonella and Other Avian Diseases with These Guidelines
Bay Area Salmonelly Outbreak October 2008
In October 2008, an outbreak of avian Salmonella was killing songbirds in the Bay Area. The disease is spread from bird to bird primarily at bird feeders and bird baths. WildCare received multiple calls about ill and dead songbirds in people's yards, and we treated more than a dozen victims of Salmonella poisoning in our wildlife hospital.
The disease Salmonellosis is a common cause of disease and death in wild birds. Bird feeders bring large numbers of birds into close contact with each other, which means diseases can spread quickly through multiple populations. Sick birds may be lethargic, puffed up and thin and may have swollen eyelids. A bird sick with Salmonella poisoning may also be seen resting with beak tucked under wing, and may be the last bird to take flight if the flock is startled. You can tell these sick birds don't feel very good!
Please note: Although humans can contract Salmonellosis, avoiding hand-to-mouth contact during, and washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with birds or their fecal matter will minimize or eliminate any risk.
If You Have Dead or Sick Birds In Your Yard:
If You Have Not Yet Seen Sick or Dead Birds:
Please use the following "intelligent feeding guidelines" as preventative measures to protect your local birds from a outbreaks of Salmonella and other avian diseases. These measures should also be practiced as regularly scheduled maintenance to ensure healthy birds:
Frequently Asked Questions
Can my cat get Salmonella from an infected bird?
Yes. The bad news is that cats can catch Salmonella from contagious birds. The good news, however, is that (quoting from www.cat-world.com.au/SalmonellosisInCats.htm) most cats infected with Salmonella are in what's known as a "subclinical carrier state". This means that they have been infected but only very mildly and don't display any clinical manifestations of the disease. Salmonellosis isn't seen very often in cats and it is believed they have a natural immunity to the bacteria.
However, cats under stress or with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to the infection.
Symptoms of Salmonellosis in cats include:
If you notice these symptoms in your cat, definitely take him or her to your veterinarian for tests and treatment.
Be sure to follow the guidelines outlined above for keeping bird feeders and bird baths clean and sanitized to reduce the risk that birds visiting your yard have the disease and encourage neighbors to keep their feeders and baths clean to halt its spread.
I've heard wood is better for cutting boards in the kitchen. Why do you recommend against wooden bird feeders?
This is a controversial issue (as illustrated by this article on the subject: www.reluctantgourmet.com/cutting_board.htm). There are studies both proving and disproving the bacteria-killing properties of wooden cutting boards, but many chefs do lean toward the wooden boards.
Whatever the best choice is for the kitchen, WildCare still recommends against wooden bird feeders for the following reasons:
The main point, however is no matter what kind of feeder you have, be sure to keep it clean!
How often should I rake the hulls and fallen seed under my bird feeders?
According to Melanie Piazza, WildCare's Director of Animal Care, for optimal bird health, and especially in an outbreak situation like this one, hulls should be removed every night.
The problem with feeder seed and hulls is that the birds sit above and knock seed down to the ground, but also drop their droppings down. As Salmonella and other bacteria are transmitted through feces, this means a concentration of potentially infected feces beneath the feeders which can be dangerous to ground-feeding birds, even when there isn’t an epidemic.
Melanie says that raking the hulls isn't sufficient, and says that the best choice is to put a pan or, even better, a sheet held down by rocks under the feeders and remove it and shake it out every night. This will also prevent rat and mouse infestations which is a bonus.
Can the owls and other raptors in my neighborhood contract Salmonella from their songbird prey?
Yes, but the impact seems to be less in larger predatory birds.
WildCare read a study of 94 Barn Owl nestlings, eight of which (8.5%) were found to harbor Salmonella, probably contracted from infected rodent prey. According to this study, all eight nestlings fledged normally without obvious adverse effects from the infection.
Anecdotally, WildCare has not gotten any raptors that tested positive for Salmonella as a cause of death. All the raptors without obvious injuries that we've taken in this month have tested positive for rodenticide poisoning, which is another serious issue facing wildlife.
Be sure to keep your feeders clean and tell everyone you know to do the same and hopefully we can stop the epidemic and diminish these concerns!