Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Put bird feeders on your list of spring cleaning chores

Spring cleaning for me is a weeklong chore that involves scrubbing my home from top to bottom. The window treatments and linens, carpeting, walls and windows, I try to tackle them all to make ready for summer. Never would I think to include the birdhouses as part of the yearly routine. 

Yet, it’s as important as feeding the birds. 

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — in its effort to prevent salmonellosis, a bacterial disease that kills many small birds — is encouraging bird enthusiasts to clean and disinfect their feeders. 

Salmonellosis occurs when a food source is contaminated with fecal matter. Since this bacterial disease was first diagnosed in Michigan back in 1970, die-offs around bird feeders have become more common and have been documented in many bird species throughout the world. 

Bird watchers have reported finding dead birds around their feeders to the DNR. On occasion, they also have noticed birds in the area showing signs of distress: huddling, fluffed-up feathers, unsteadiness and shivering. 

“We have received several calls from people who are finding dead goldfinches,” said Brian Piccolo, a DNR wildlife biologist based in Roscommon, adding that the disease is most prevalent in house sparrows, pine siskins, American goldfinches and common redpolls. The main reason is that they crowd into the feeding area and remain there until all of the food supply is exhausted -- greatly increasing its chances of coming into contact with the bacteria. Biologists also believe the species is more susceptible to the disease than other wild birds. 

“The best thing you can do is remove and clean your bird feeder,” Piccolo said.
 Begin with a thorough cleaning of all feeders and birdbaths. The DNR advises homeowners to follow-up each week with a 10-percent bleach solution. According to a report by the DNR, “If the bacterial disease is suspected, bird feed should be removed from the area for two to four weeks to all birds to disperse; this includes encouraging neighbors to also clean and remove feeders. By allowing the birds to disperse, birds infected with the disease can separate from healthy birds.” 

If any bird seed accumulates on the ground, it should be raked up, and any soil suspected of being contaminated removed. The good news is salmonellosis is not a cause of significant decline in the population of wild birds. 

“Feeding wildlife congregates them in a way that is not normal,” said Tom Cooley, DNR wildlife biologist and pathologist. “Disease transmission is higher when wildlife is concentrated and in closer contact with each other.”

Once the summer months return, salmonellosis outbreaks around the feeders decline, as most people do not feed the birds, and they return to foraging for food in a more natural way, individually. 

For more information about salmonellosis and other wildlife diseases, visit the DNR website

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