Deaths of tiny songbirds linked to salmonella in feeders

Tiny songbirds are dying on the south Island and other parts of the province from a salmonella outbreak linked to bird feeders and baths.

Pine siskins, nomadic finches with pointed bills and yellow edges on their wings and tails, have been a common sight during the winter months as they search out food sources.

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But the B.C. Wildlife Rescue ­Association and Wild ARC are reporting a spike in sickened and dying siskins due to salmonella, and are asking people to remove — or at the very least clean — their bird feeders and baths to stem the disease.

Wallis Moore Reid of Wild ARC said 12 pine siskins were brought in in December and 16 have been ­delivered to the Metchosin facility so far this month. None were reported last year.

Many more likely die unnoticed.

It’s been worse on the Lower Mainland, where the B.C. Wildlife Rescue Association reported 127 sick siskins in 2020, including 75 last month. So far in January, 36 sick ­siskins have been brought in.

Moore Reid said there isn’t a lot that can be done to nurse the little birds back to health.

“Due to the severity of the outbreak, none of the siskins have survived so far,” Moore Reid said Friday. “It’s a severe disease and survival rates are low.”

Salmonella attacks the digestive system, making it difficult for the birds to feed, and is transmitted by fecal contamination of food and water as well as contact with other birds, according to the B.C. Wildlife Rescue Association.

The affected pine siskins appear fluffed up and lethargic.

Since bird feeders and baths can quickly spread the disease, people are asked to remove them or regularly clean them with soap and water, and then a 10% bleach solution, before rinsing and drying.

They also caution that salmonella is contagious to humans and pets, and that seeds and droppings should be carefully cleaned up and disposed of.

Pine siskins range throughout Canada all year, often in large numbers, and have sporadic migration habits. Bird watchers say some years there are huge flocks, while they are rarely seen in other years.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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