Danger at Feeders: Avian Salmonella Claiming Lives of Birds
Joan Stoner's songbirds are dying. "I noticed several dead goldfinches around the feeder and wondered what was happening," the Pinehurst resident said.
According to Bill Kastern, of Wild Birds Unlimited, who has a Ph.D. in biology, the disease is avian salmonella -- no relation to the dreaded "bird flu," which can pass to humans. This winter, millions of pine siskins and other finches have descended from Canada for lack of food.
"The disease is usually present in low levels, but this year there are so many finches that it spreads rapidly," Kastern said.
Bacteria are dispersed when birds cough or sneeze, wherever they congregate -- on branches as well as feeders. Bacteria are also present in fecal matter that accumulates near feeders. Sick birds may appear thin, or fluffed up, or have swollen eyes.
This salmonella is not related to the strain appearing in peanuts from a Georgia processor, which sickened humans, Kastern stressed.
"The peanuts we sell for (wildlife) have been tested and are safe."
Antibiotics help, but are not practical. Spring should bring relief.
"Birds are stronger and can fight it off, just like humans fight off colds in the summer," Kastern said.
Until then, household pets may be in danger.
"Dogs are carriers but if they eat an infected bird they can get sick," said Dr. Daniel Norland, a veterinarian at Yadkin Park Animal Hospital in Southern Pines.
Symptoms in dogs and cats are similar to intestinal flu and can spread to the blood stream, resulting in death.
Kastern and Norland both recommend washing bird feeders, poles and baths with a 10 percent bleach solution. Rinse thoroughly before refilling. Wash hands after handing anything birds have touched. Pick up dead birds with a shovel and bury deep in the ground, Norland advised.
Soon the finches will fly north.
"Until then we'll just have to cross our fingers and wait," Kastern said.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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