Keep those bird feeders down for a while longer, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife requests.
Continued reports of sick or dead birds at backyard feeders across Washington and other states are prompting officials to recommend discontinuing backyard bird feeling until at least April 1, or take extra steps to maintain them.
The department asked residents to remove or clean feeders in February in response to a die-off of finches, such as pine siskins, as well as other songbirds due to salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease apparently brought into the U.S. by migrating birds from Canada.
When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease through droppings and saliva. Discontinuing feeding of wild birds will force them to disperse and forage individually and help stop the spread of the disease, said Dr. Kristin Mansfield, department veterinarian.
It will not leave them without food supplies during the winter and spring months.
“Birds use natural food sources year-round, even while also using backyard bird feeders, so they should be fine without the feeders for another month,” Mansfield said.
Those who want to continue feeding birds are asked to clean them daily.
First rinse them with warm, soapy water, then dunk them in a solution of nine parts water and one part bleach.
Finish by rinsing and drying before refilling. Other methods of slowing the spread of the disease are to use feeders that accommodate fewer birds, such as tubes rather than platforms, and spread out feeder locations.
The ground below bird feeders should be kept clean by raking or shoveling up feces and seed casings, officials said.
Turn over or cover bird baths so birds cannot access them, they added.
It is possible, although uncommon, for salmonella bacteria to transfer from birds to humans through direct contact with infected birds, droppings, or through domestic cats that catch sick birds, state officials said.
When handling birds, bird feeders or bird baths, it is best to wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterward.
The first signs that a bird may have salmonellosis is often a seemingly tame bird on or near a feeder, officials said.
Birds infected with salmonella become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach.
Unfortunately, at this point there is very little people can do to treat them.
The best course it to leave these birds alone and report them, and dead birds, to Fish and Wildlife’s WDFW’s online reporting tool at tinyurl.com/reporttowfw.
For more information, see wdfw.wa.gov.