Increasing cases of sick and dying birds are emerging in record-high numbers across British Columbia and Oregon due to an ongoing widespread, lethal salmonella outbreak, as reported by the Wildlife Rescue Association.
The organization is calling on residents to take down their bird feeders to mitigate the spread of the disease.
Pine Siskins, small and striped energetic birds, are most at risk. They are the most widespread and abundant of small finches in British Columbia. Survey data suggests the population is experiencing a trend of long-term decline. However this year in particular, a sharp increase in Pine Siskin population indicates the species is experiencing an irruption year, creating a higher disease transmission risk.
The social nature of Pine Siskins makes them vulnerable to disease spread, as they tend to flock and feed within close proximity of one another. In these crowded conditions, diseases spread readily.
Birds infected with salmonella may appear thin, fluffed up, or lethargic. The illness is transmissible between birds, other animals, and humans.
Bird feeders are hotspots for rampant transmission and can intensify the spread of this deadly infection, which can be passed on through bird-to-bird contact and contamination of food and water by sick birds. The Wildlife Rescue Association recommends removing feeders and cleaning the ground of uneaten birdseed to minimize the spread of infection.
A Wild Bird Trust of BC (WBT) member recently reported seeing several leftover piles of birdseed at Maplewood Flats being consumed by squirrels and small flocks of birds. The member noted seeing one deflated-looking Pine Siskin.
The ongoing, widespread salmonella infection is a blunt reminder that at Maplewood Flats, the only wild bird sanctuary on the North shore, there is a strict no feeding policy. Enhanced vulnerability to lethal disease spread is just one reason why WBT enforces this policy. Habituated feeding can delay bird migration, increase the risk of predation and spread disease between birds at feeding sites. Rotting excess food can cause illness in birds and attract rats, squirrels, racoons and crows. These animals are major predators of bird eggs and chicks in nesting season.
Please respect the wild birds and their ecosystems. Instead of feeding the birds, observe and appreciate them from a distance.