Cleaning You Bird Feeder is for the Birds – Literally!

Pine Siskin in Incubator / Photo by Jen G. Pywell

Over the years, Chintimini Wildlife Center’s Rehabilitation Clinic has admitted enough wildlife patients to be able to predict seasonal trends. For example, during winter migration when coastal weather is rough we expect many grounded grebes. And summertime is always “baby bird season.” Another species we admit in larger than usual numbers during the wintertime, especially this season, is Pine Siskin.

It may be surprising that what ails many of these tiny songbirds may be lurking in backyard bird feeders – a threat that cannot be seen with the naked eye – Salmonella. With proper feeder maintenance however, we can all help to ameliorate these effects.

Pine Siskins (Spinus pinus) are very small streaky brown finches with yellow markings on their wings and tails. You may notice them in small flocks during the winter at your bird feeder chirping with one another as they enjoy seeds, especially thistle. Read more info about Pine Siskins at The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website.

In 2014, State of the Birds listed Pine Siskins as one of the Common Birds in Steep Decline, so it is ever more urgent we do what we can to help protect this species.

According to the Seattle Audubon Society:

“All species of birds are susceptible to salmonella infection. Occasionally, outbreaks of the disease can cause significant mortality in certain species including Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll and American Goldfinch. Most commonly, the first appearance of this disease is seen in Pine Siskins.”

If you see a Pine Siskin that is puffed up, lethargic and easy to approach, then it may be infected with Salmonella. If you do notice a Pine Siskin or other bird at your feeder in this condition, you may call Chintimini Wildlife Center’s Rehabilitation Clinic at (541) 541-745-5324 to learn how you may be able to help in its rehabilitation. Our clinic is open every day of the year from 9am to 7pm for admitting wildlife patients and advising on wildlife concerns. You can read more about what to do when you find an injured bird or other animal, here.

Once admitted at the clinic, Pine Siskins who are diagnosed with Salmonellosis, the infection caused by Salmonella bacteria, are warmed up in an incubator,  administered oral antibiotics and fed a proper diet. Once the course of antibiotics are complete and the birds are at a healthy weight they are released back into the wild. 

According to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center:

“There are many different strains of salmonella. Many different types of animals can carry salmonella, including rodents. The bacteria live in the intestines and pass out with the feces. The organism can be spread from bird to bird through direct contact, or through ingestion of food or water contaminated with feces from an infected bird or mammal.”

With Oregon’s rainy season in full swing, backyard bird feeders can easily become perfect vectors for spreading this disease as birds often eat on the feeder and defecate on or below the feeder, where other birds continue to consume potentially contaminated seeds. For this reason it is crucial that backyard bird feeders are cleaned often in order to ensure the health and well being of our winged visitors.

The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website recommends that feeders are cleaned at least every two weeks or more often during wet weather and provides the following instructions to do so:

“To clean your feeder, take it apart and use a dishwasher on a hot setting or hand wash either with soap and boiling water or with a dilute bleach solution (no more than 1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry before refilling.”

The Seattle Audubon Society adds that you can “prevent overcrowding by adding more feeders or setting up different types of feeders that allow only a few birds to visit at one time.”  Also, during an outbreak of Salmonella and if you see a sick or dead bird at your feeder, it’s advised to wait a few weeks before putting your bird feeder out again. This way Pine Siskins are encouraged to disperse and begin to migrate, no longer traveling in flocks.

Not only is it important to clean your own feeder, but also let your neighbors know about about this disease and how they can help to ensure the health of our wild bird populations.

If you would like to make a financial contribution that will be used in the rehabilitation of Pine Siskins, please make a donation via paypal. Thanks in advance!

Written by Jen G. Pywell / Volunteer

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