About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why was there a bird die-off under my feeder?

My friend has had a bunch of Red Poles at his and his parents feeders this Winter in Pennsylvania but they have found 10-12 of them dead. No visible injuries and no other species have been found dead. This is the first time he has ever had Red poles. Do you have any idea what could be causing this?

I’m not surprised it was the first time he had redpolls in a while. I wrote earlier about how this was going to be a good season for bird watching because Canada’s natural seed crops were horrible last year and lots of birds that usually like to winter further north had to have venture south to states like Michigan and Pennsylvania to find food.

Because of this increased traffic it is very important to keep your feeders clean. These flocks of birds are going to be stressed and susceptible to disease. Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes in a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution. Scrub with brushes, rinse thoroughly, and let air dry. 

However, at the end of winter, if people find dead birds around their feeder or lethargic birds huddled close to houses it may mean a Salmonellosis outbreak. Signs range from sudden death to gradual onset of depression over 1 to 3 days, accompanied by huddling of the birds, fluffed-up feathers, unsteadiness, shivering, loss of appetite, and rapid loss of weight. Especially susceptible to Salmonellosis during these stressed times are House sparrows, Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and Common Redpolls.

No drugs or antibiotics have proven to be entirely effective for treating salmonellosis in any wild birds. At the site where there are die-offs, feeders should be disinfected weekly to help reduce transmission and the area underneath should be raked clean as well.

Salmonellosis refers to a disease caused by bacteria in the genus Salmonella. How outbreaks begin is not known. Possibly some birds are carriers of the disease and either spread it or become affected themselves when stressed.

So in order to keep healthy birds at your feeders:

1. Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. And weekly if you see any sick birds. You can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to disinfect all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes. Scrub with brushes, rinse thoroughly, and let air dry.  Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will also clean your feeder for $5.00.
2. Check your feeders after a rain and snow to make sure the seed is dry. If not, replace it.
3. Store seed in a cool dry location.
Wild Birds Unlimited has closed steel containers that work well to protect seed from unwanted seed thieves or bad weather.
4. When choosing a new feeder look for something easy to clean and fill.
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If you keep these measures in mind, you can keep this hobby enjoyable for your family and safe for your birds.

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