Thursday, November 19, 2015

Feeding the Birds by Tina Ligon

Mountain Chickadee on a snowy day

 I started winter feeding the birds again last year and was reminded of a few general rules of good bird feeding. It is fun to see large groups of birds crowding around a feeder but that may not be the best thing for their health. I saw a few birds die last year from Salmonellosis (I did not take a dead bird in for diagnosis but the symptoms certainly fit the numerous descriptions I read). Birds that tend to travel in groups are more susceptible such as those in the finch family.

This is a cold but healthy looking Cassin’s finch.

This is a sick looking Cassin’s finch.
  At first glance the sick bird looks like it is cold but a real tipoff is if you see one bird looking all fluffed up and ruffled when all the others are not looking like that. Below is an excerpt from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center and here is the link.

Salmonellosis (sal-muh-nel-LOW-sis)
Salmonellosis is a general term for any disease in animals and people caused by a group of bacteria known by the Latin name Salmonella. Birds can die quickly if the Salmonella bacteria spread throughout the body. Abscesses often form in the lining of the esophagus and crop as part of the infection process. 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.

You can spot sick birds in a crowd. They are less alert and less active. They feed less and often cower on a feeder, reluctant to fly. Their feathers look ill-kept. Despite these obvious symptoms, disease usually is overlooked as a complication of feeding birds. Certainly, the signs of illness are not as easily noticed as bright colors and cheery songs; but being inconspicuous does not make disease unimportant.

The Precautions against Disease
People who feed birds cannot ignore the disease issue. Eight relatively easy steps can be taken to prevent or minimize disease problems at feeders.
1. Give them space - Avoid crowding by providing ample feeder space. Lots of birds using a single feeder looks wonderful, but crowding is a key factor in spreading disease. If birds have to jostle each other to reach the food, they are crowded. This crowding also creates stress which may make birds more vulnerable to disease.
2. Clean up wastes - Keep the feeder area clean of waste food and droppings. A broom and shovel can accomplish a lot of good, but a vacuum such as you might use in your garage or workshop will help even more.
3. Make feeders safe - Provide safe feeders without sharp points or edges. Even small scratches and cuts will allow bacteria and viruses to enter otherwise healthy birds.
4. Keep feeders clean - Clean and disinfect feeders regularly. Use one part of liquid chlorine household bleach in nine parts of tepid water (a 10 percent solution) to disinfect. Make enough solution to immerse an empty, cleaned feeder completely for two to three minutes. Allow to air dry. Once or twice a month should do, but weekly could help more if you notice sick birds at your feeders.
5. Use good food - Discard any food that smells musty, is wet, looks moldy or has fungus growing on it. Disinfect any storage container that holds spoiled food and the scoop used to fill feeders from it.
6. Prevent contamination - Keep rodents out of stored food. Mice can carry and spread some bird diseases without being affected themselves.
7. Act early - Don't wait to act until you see sick or dead birds. With good prevention you'll seldom find sick or dead birds at your feeders.
8. Spread the word - Encourage your neighbors who feed birds to follow the same precautions. Birds normally move among feeders and can spread diseases as they go. The safest birdfeeders will be those in communities where neighbors cooperate with equal concern for the birds.

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