A female Pine Siskin, which is one of several birds irrupting from further north. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A female Pine Siskin, which is one of several birds irrupting from further north. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Local birds experiencing a pandemic of their own

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging people to put away their bird feeders for the time being.

The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging people to stop using, or to deeply clean, their bird feeders in order to prevent the spread of a deadly disease that is killing birds.

The WDFW has been receiving reports of sick or dead birds at feeders in several counties, including King, Kitsap, Skagit, Snohomish, and Thurston. Locally, the song bird rehabilitation nonprofit Featherhaven has received so many calls and emails that Director Kelley Ward has lost count.

“The sad part is, you can’t save them,” Ward said in a recent interview. “You just can’t. I’ve tried.”

The culprit is salmonellosis, a common and usually fatal bird disease caused by the salmonella bacteria, WDFW veterinarian Kristin Mansfield said in a press release; “When birds flock together in large numbers at feeders, they can transmit the disease through droppings and saliva.”

According to the WDFW, the spread of the disease may have been exacerbated this year by what’s called an “irruption” (a sudden migration of unusually large numbers) of winter birds coming down from Canada and the far north.

Back in October, the Audubon Magazine reported that the current irruption of the Pine Siskin is “one of the biggest irruption years in recorded history for the finches… This year’s irruption is so strong, in fact, that Pine Siskins have also been recorded migrating at night — something highly unusual for the species and that has only been observed once before, during the last major irruption a decade ago.”

Signs that a bird may be sick include timidity and allowing a human to get close to the bird.

“The birds become very lethargic, fluff out their feathers, and are easy to approach. This kind of behavior is generally uncommon to birds,” Mansfield said. “Unfortunately, at this point there is very little people can do to treat them. The best course [is] to leave the birds alone.”

The WFDW recommends discontinuing the use of feeders until at least February, to encourage birds to not congregate in one area — much like the social distancing recommendations to keep from spreading COVID-19 in people.

“Birds use natural food sources year-round, even while also using backyard bird feeders, so they should be fine without the feeders,” Mansfield said.

People who wish to keep using their feeders can do so by cleaning the feeders daily with soap and water, then sanitizing the feeder by dunking it in a solution that is nine parts water, one part bleach, and then letting it dry before hanging it back up. It’s also recommended people keep the ground below the feeder clean of bird droppings.

“It is possible, although uncommon, for salmonella bacteria to transfer from birds to humans through direct contact with infected birds, droppings, or through domestic cats that catch sick birds,” the WFDW stated in a press release. “When handling birds, bird feeders or bird baths, it is best to wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterward.”

If you’ve seen a dead bird near your feeder, the WDFW is asking you to report the death online at https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/a384e90f69744f2e846135a9ce80027f and avoid handling it.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in News

gavel and sounding block on desk
Former school psychologist charged for possessing child porn

Aaron Myers, a former Enumclaw School District employee, was arrested early December 2020.

Freshwater variety of kokanee salmon from Lake Sammamish. File photo
Encouraging numbers for kokanee salmon spawn count

Lake Sammamish kokanee aren’t out of the woods by any stretch, but… Continue reading

In this file photo, Tayshon Cottrell dons his graduation cap and gown, along with a face mask reading: “Wear it! Save America” at Todd Beamer High School’s virtual graduation walk recording on May 20, 2020, in Federal Way. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Law gives Washington high school seniors leeway to graduate

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that can waive some requirements for students who were on track before the pandemic.

File photo
Study shows Washingtonians exceeded ‘heavy drinking’ threshold in 2020

The survey suggests Washingtonians drank more than 17 alcoholic beverages a week on average.

Mercer Island School District first-graders returned to in-person classes on Jan. 19, 2021. Here, Northwood Elementary School students head into the building. Photo courtesy of the Mercer Island School District
Governor: Educators are now eligible for coronavirus vaccine

“This should give educators more confidence,” Jay Inslee said. Other frontline workers could soon be next.

Malden, after a wildfire burned down 80% of the town’s buildings in Eastern Washington. Courtesy photo
DNR commissioner seeks $125 million to fight wildfires

In Washington state last September, some 600,000 acres burned within 72 hours.

These culverts run water fromLake Sawyer underneath 224th Avenue Southeast to Covington Creek. But soon, this stretch of road will be a bridge instead. Photo by Ray Miller-Still
Black Diamond culvert replacement project receives $2 million

A small stretch of 224th Avenue Southeast will soon become a bridge.

The new trap-and-haul facility is designed to pull nearly every fish from the White River and safely move them to a spot above Mud Mountain Dam. Here, Project Manager Leah Hauenstein explains operations on the upstream side. Photo by Kevin Hanson
New trap-and-haul operation on the White River is largest in the nation

Take a peek inside the $130 million project, which is designed to move up to 60,000 fish a day.

Melissa Holt, recreation programmer at the Senior Activity Center, answers voicemails Tuesday morning from people hoping to get vaccinated on Sunday. Photo by Alex Bruell
Senior Center, St. Elizbeth partner up to administer vaccines to Plateau residents

Additionally, the Kent and Auburn vaccine sites have opened up to those 65 and older.

Most Read