[Tweeters] Sick and dying Siskins and other finches (long)

dpdvm at whidbey.com dpdvm at whidbey.com
Tue Jan 5 14:39:57 PST 2021

Hello Tweeters,

As a veterinarian who treats wildlife, I would like to weigh into the
conversation concerning Salmonellosis in sick and dying Siskins and other
finches. I have done more than my share of attempting to treat (always
futile) and euthanization of these sick birds.

Important fact - Salmonella is a natural and normal inhabitant of the
gastrointestinal tracts of almost all birds, reptiles and amphibians. These
bacteria do little or no harm to a healthy individual and perhaps may be
beneficial. As an aside, better cook that chicken or turkey very well!
During commercial poultry processing, it is almost impossible to avoid some
fecal contamination of the meat.

Do feeders play an important role in the transmission of Salmonellosis?
There are so many variables it is difficult to sort them all out. Why is it
the case that some individuals who rarely clean their feeders report no
cases of sick finches while others who clean and bleach their feeders every
day report many cases? Why are these cases seen mostly in winter? Why
finches and not chickadees, nuthatches or woodpeckers? Does the finches'
habit of staying at a feeder for long periods contribute? Are finches more
susceptible to Salmonella? Are feeders really the source of overwhelming
Salmonella infections? Do sick Siskins get sick elsewhere and then gravitate
to feeders because of the easy food supply?

Winter is a tough time for all wildlife, especially the very young who
haven't quite figured out how to make a living and the very old. A missed
meal during cold wet weather could mean a downward spiral. It is impossible
to identify a mildly sick bird because prey animals hide any sign of
weakness until they can't anymore. Those fluffed birds camped out at your
feeder are dying and likely cannot be helped.

Since every bird already harbors Salmonella bacteria, it is my opinion (and
JUST an opinion!) that the birds that are dying from Salmonellosis almost
always have some preexisting condition that makes them more susceptible to
the disease. They may be malnourished, weak, unable to stay warm, or have
some other concurrent disease. The Salmonella takes over in these situations
and causes death. Our own bodies contain billions of beneficial E. coli
bacteria but if these organisms are in the wrong place at the wrong time
they can cause a serious infection.

So, what about feeders as a cause of dying birds? Maybe, but I believe we
may save more birds by feeding them especially during the torrential rains
we are experiencing or when snow covers the ground. Again, this is
controversial and there appears to be no right or wrong answer. Should we
thoroughly clean our feeders? Definitely, fungal and other pathogens as well
as Salmonella, lurk in feeders. The frequency of cleaning is up to you.

I hope this has been food for thought. Definitely a lot of unanswered

Happy New Year!

Dave Parent DVM dpdvm at whidbey.com <mailto:dpdvm at whidbey.com> Freeland, WA

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