Salmonellosis and Bird Feeders: Here's How to Help Reduce Its Spread

There is more to feeding the birds than meets the eye. It is our responsibility to provide a safe and clean feeding environment.


I have been feeding birds in my yard for years. I enjoy watching them, love listening to them and have learned to recognize a variety of species. I’ve always felt that I was a good ‘bird person,’ as I have nice feeders, buy high quality bird seed and am pretty good at keeping them full.

Then something happened last month that came as a shock, and I learned that I had a lot to learn about feeding the birds. One day, as I was walking out our front door, I saw a little bird hopping along on the sidewalk. As I got closer, I expected that it would fly away, but…it didn’t. It only hopped out of my way.

I watched with concern thinking that it must have an injured wing or something. After awhile, I gently scooped it up with a dish towel and brought it to PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, http://www.paws.org/injured-wildlife.html

The little bird was a Pine Siskin and it didn’t take long for them to determine that it was most likely infected with Salmonellosis, a bacteria which can be found at highly populated feeders. Infected birds pass bacteria in their fecal droppings.  Other birds get sick when they eat food contaminated by the droppings.

Salmonellosis is the most common bird-feeder disease, and Pine Siskins seem to be particularly vulnerable. The woman I spoke with said that dozens of Pine Siskins had been brought in that week alone – all suffering from Salmonellosis.  She recommended that I take my feeders down and clean them well and keep them down for several weeks to a month, giving the birds a chance to disperse.

It was also recommended that I sweep, rake the areas under the feeders to remove any debris that could be harboring the bacteria. When I got home, I removed all feeders and when I began the clean up process, found several lifeless little birds among the leaves and debris. They were Pine Siskins as well.   

PAWS gave me some informational brochures which I found to be very helpful. Additionally, I have done quite a bit of reading on this and now realize that there is a lot more to feeding the birds than just providing food. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center offers this advice:

To reduce the spread of bacteria, clean feeders with a 10% bleach and water solution, rinse well and dry. Don’t put the feeders back up for one to two weeks, so that affected birds won’t be concentrated in one location.  Bird feeders with rough surfaces, cracks or crevices are difficult to sanitize and should not be used.  When using feeders, the location should be changed at regular intervals.  Addition of more feeders may reduce crowding and minimize opportunity for interaction and contamination. Birdseed should be stored in rodent proof containers.

I inspected my feeders and they did have small scratches and cracks, so I threw them away. It has been almost three weeks since I’ve removed feeders. I do have several suet cakes hanging, but have been diligent about cleaning the area underneath. I’m seeing quite a few birds, and they all appear happy and healthy… I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

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