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Salmonella Is Killing Songbirds Around The West. You Can Help Stop The Spread

CDFW-Wildlife Investigations Lab
A pine siskin, among the kinds of finches and other songbirds affected by a salmonella outbreak.

A salmonella outbreak is killing songbirds around the West, and it continues to spread.

Salmonella is always in the environment, and localized outbreaks happen somewhat regularly in the summer. However, Idaho Department Fish and Game biologist Lyn Smoddy says the spread started earlier this year and is affecting a much larger area than usual.

So far, there have been reports in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and North Carolina. It is mostly affecting birds you’d see congregated at feeders, like finches, including common redpolls, goldfinches and pine siskins, and grosbeak species.

Smoddy says a mild winter could be to blame, since some birds stayed farther north or in lower elevations, and then “those species would be at feeders more than we would normally see them.”

As they grouped up at feeders, they transmitted the disease. However, we could help limit the spread by taking down feeders and bird baths for 2-3 weeks, and cleaning them out with a 10% bleach solution.

“Of course we all love watching birds at our feeders, but this temporary hiatus could make a real big difference,” she said.

Smoddy says birds will find other food once feeders are removed. However, the disease can transfer to other animals and humans, so wear gloves and keep pets away while cleaning or around dead birds.

If you see birds puffing up and acting unusually lethargic, or you find multiple dead birds, contact your local fish and game authority.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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