The local pine siskins are experiencing an epidemic, and I feel very bad about it for their sake and mine. Watching the birds at the feeders in my back yard, seeing the number of species increase every season, learning to identify and recognize most of them — it’s all been a steady comfort and joy. But now I need to encourage them to go elsewhere and find food in other, larger spaces.
It appears that in the case of the pine siskins, and in some places goldfinches, when they unnaturally congregate at feeders they keep spreading salmonella around. I’ve read news articles from British Columbia, Oregon, and California, all saying basically the same thing:
“Salmonellosis is an infection caused by bacteria of the genus Salmonella. These bacteria primarily attack the digestive system, notably the throat, making it difficult for the birds to feed. The symptoms are not always obvious in wild animals, but infected birds may appear thin, fluffed up, and lethargic.
“How you can help birds avoid disease:
“Salmonellosis is primarily transmitted by fecal contamination of food and water by sick birds, although it can also be transmitted through bird-to-bird contact.
“High traffic spots, such as bird feeders, create a source point of transmission and can exacerbate the spread of this deadly disease. Removing the feeders completely is the best solution to encourage birds to disperse, thereby minimizing the potential for infection. If you choose to keep your feeders up, they must be properly maintained to foster a healthy bird environment.”
They make it sound as though the outbreak has developed this winter, but now that I’ve seen images and descriptions of sick birds compared with healthy, I’m pretty sure that last winter some of the pine siskins (which I thought then were sparrows) at my feeders were ill.
Just last week I encountered one at the tray feeder who I now understand was “lethargic.” At the time, and back in 2019, I only wondered at how calm and friendly they were. I also thought it strange that some of them would sit contemplatively on the hopper feeder, doing nothing. Now I get that they were too weak to fly away.
The Cooper’s Hawk that has been coming around more boldly all the time, taking advantage of the flocks of finches, will probably stop visiting. I plan to stop feeding the birds at least until next winter. I am not the tidiest housekeeper anywhere, and if I need to disinfect the birdbath, fountain and feeders regularly in order to be a good bird-feeding friend, I think it best to revert to nature.
How can I explain to these creatures about the changes? “This hurts me more than it does you!” I do have lots of plants with seeds or fruit that various birds can enjoy, and have been eating all along. Plus insects — yes, a good supply of those. Many birds pay little attention to my seed offerings.
And I still have the hummingbird feeder!
On another garden topic, the daphne by the front door is getting really big and is covered with blooms right now. When the sun shines on it in the morning the scent wafts up at me when I go in or out, and I swoon.