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

Wilson Cady gorgebirds at juno.com
Wed Jan 6 11:07:43 PST 2021

I haven't handled any of this year's Pine Siskins but am not surprised by the reports of low body weight as a poor food crop in the east has forced these birds westward. The 2020-2021 Winter Finch Forecast from the Finch Network examines the finch and waxwing food crops across the northern forests and predicts where the birds will move to based on food supplies. For Pine Siskins it says this: "It looks to be a flight year for several species in the East. Most cone crops average poor to fair from Lake Superior eastward with Eastern White Pine being the exception. Spruce crops increase west from Lake Superior from fair to excellent in Western Canada and Alaska. White-winged Crossbills and often Pine Siskins prefer to move east or west rather than go south in search of cone crops." Winter Finch Forecast – FINCH RESEARCH NETWORK (finchnetwork.org) Wilson Cady
Columbia River Gorge, WA

---------- Original Message ----------
From: Steven Dammer <dammerecologist1990 at gmail.com>
To: "dan&erika" <danerika at gmail.com>
Cc: Tweeters <tweeters at u.washington.edu>, dpdvm at whidbey.com
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] Sick and dying Siskins and other finches (long)
Date: Tue, 5 Jan 2021 19:40:16 -0800

This is some good insight.

I had a feeling the superflight caused a massive level of exhaustion amongst finches competing with one another as they search for food. While it sounds like Salmonella is a possibility, I'm noticing with the Pine Siskins at my feeder a lot of fighting, and the one I was able to approach and have hop on my finger was getting the worst of it. With populations of finches exploding from the spring surplus, the prevalence of weaker birds also increases, so I'm guessing it's just natural selection on a more noticeable scale. Could be a lot of things! But just as a precaution it never hurts to clean the feeder out a bit more often just in case.. -Steven
On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 2:47 PM dan&erika <danerika at gmail.com> wrote:Dave and other Tweeters-- The comments that Dave made about siskins are interesting and I am inclined to believe he is correct. My 2 cents to this conversation is that siskins have just this month discovered our banding station in Olympia. The birds we have banded this year have been remarkably emaciated, perhaps indicating that they have been having great difficulty finding food sources. dan
On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 2:40 PM <dpdvm at whidbey.com> wrote: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 questions!

Happy New Year!

Dave Parent DVM dpdvm at whidbey.com Freeland, WA

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