Biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission have received a concerning number of reports over the past few weeks of dead goldfinches and pine siskins in yards across the state. In response, biologists had multiple carcasses tested and the preliminary results point to salmonellosis.
Salmonella infection (salmonellosis) is a common bacterial disease, often fatal in songbirds that frequent bird feeders. Sick birds may appear thin, fluffed up, depressed, have swollen eyelids or may have trouble passing waste. They are often lethargic and easy to approach.
The Southeast Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study laboratory that conducted the testing has reported widespread cases of salmonellosis in the Southeastern United States. Their findings, coupled with the number of calls fielded by the Wildlife Commission and partner agencies, have put biologists on alert.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are recommending that if you own a bird feeder you should clean it frequently with a dilute bleach solution (no more than 1-part bleach to 9-parts water) and allow the feeder to dry completely before refilling,” stated Wildlife Biologist Greg Batts of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “If you suspect salmonellosis, the only option is to remove the feeder completely for a period of two to three weeks.”
Batts knows removing feeders isn’t a popular solution, especially for bird enthusiasts who may own many feeding structures, but it’s imperative for the health of the birds. Even after intensive cleaning, re-contamination commonly occurs where birds are being fed because the disease is shed by feces and some birds are carriers. Consequently, it is not recommended that people scatter bird seed on the ground either because birds can acquire salmonellosis while feeding together in these situations also.
Batts also warns that pets that ingest dead or dying songbirds may be at risk of getting sick, as well as humans who handle sick or dead birds. “When disposing of bird carcasses, always wear gloves, bury or double bag the animal before disposing it in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.”
The Wildlife Commission urges North Carolinians to report any suspected salmonellosis cases to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401 or by emailing them at HWI@ncwildlife.org.