People with bird feeders are urged to watch for sick birds after reports of migrating Pine Siskens spreading salmonella by flocking at feeders in parts of the province. (Courtesy of Wildlife Association of BC)

People with bird feeders are urged to watch for sick birds after reports of migrating Pine Siskens spreading salmonella by flocking at feeders in parts of the province. (Courtesy of Wildlife Association of BC)

Cowichan Valley residents with feeders cautioned to watch for sick birds

Pine Siskin birds flocking at feeders, spreading disease

Local bird lover Sabine Almstrom said people with bird feeders in their yards in the Cowichan Valley should be aware of an outbreak of salmonella among pine siskin birds that are migrating in great numbers this year from boreal forests up north.

Pine siskins are songbirds that are very small with sharp, pointed bills and short, notched tails.

They breed in northern boreal forests, but range over much of North America.

Almstrom said pine siskins have come down from the northern forests in larger numbers than usual this year because of an insufficient cone crop in those forests to feed them.

“Some have salmonella and they are flocking in large numbers at people’s bird feeders, which is causing the salmonella to spread quickly among them because the disease is highly contagious among flocking birds,” she said.

“There is a call for action [among the birding community] and people with bird feeders, including suet feeders, in the area should take them down for at least two weeks. I have been assured by wildlife experts that birds have enough food in the wild. Hummingbird feeders can stay up, but should of course be cleaned regularly.”

RELATED STORY: DESPITE REPORTS OF DECLINE, BIRDS FLOCKING TO NATIONAL PARKS IN CANADIAN ROCKIES

The Burnaby-based Wildlife Support Centre has confirmed that salmonella is spreading through pine siskin populations after it recently admitted 78 of the birds from across Metro Vancouver who are suffering from the disease.

“Once a bird is infected, mortality rates rapidly increase among all birds who contact the feeder,” the Wildlife Support Centre said in a news release.

“Distressed birds must be handled safely and with care to prevent the spread through animals and humans.”

Bird experts confirm that if you witness a sick bird at one of your feeders, it is imperative to take the feeder down immediately for at least 14 days to prevent flocking, and to help to disperse the birds and limit their exposure to the concentrated feeder.

RELATED STORY: CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS EXTINCTION FOR MOST BIRDS, ESPECIALLY IN CANADA: REPORT

The Wildlife Rescue Association of BC suggests cleaning all bird feeders once a week with a 10 per cent bleach solution to kill the spread of salmonella, and rinsing with water afterwards.

The other option is to encourage natural feeding behaviours by removing the feeder before the winter months.

“We’ve lost about a third of all birds in North America for a number of reasons, so I think we have a responsibility to do as much as possible for them,” Almstrom said.

“People want to help by putting up feeders, but in a lot of cases, they are just creating more sick birds. The feeders should be cleaned regularly.”

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