With dramatic increase in population of pine siskins, PAWS advises removing bird feeders to combat salmonella

A pine siskin at PAWS. (Courtesy PAWS Facebook page)

According to the Lynnwood-based Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), the U.S. is witnessing one of the biggest reported irruption years of pine siskins in the U.S. Irruptions are sudden, dramatic increases in the abundance of an animal, in this case caused by conifer cone shortages in northern North America.

“The large flocks we are seeing all over Western Washington are incredible to witness. However, this event has caused pine siskins to gather in even larger numbers around bird feeders, which can increase the spread of salmonella, a potentially fatal bacterium,” PAWS said in a Facebook Post.

PAWS said its Wildlife Center has admitted 68 Pine Siskins in the last 60 days and the admissions staff are fielding multiple calls daily about sick siskins. “Usually, we recommend removing feeders for a few weeks when a sick bird is found nearby and cleaning the area thoroughly,” the PAWS Facebook post said. “However, the flocks are so large and cases so frequent right now, we recommend removing your feeders even before you detect a sick bird until the irruptive migrants move on.”

Learn more about how to combat salmonellosis from the Seattle Audubon Society at https://bit.ly/35n19u9.

Learn more about how to make your yard healthy for birds from the PAWS Wildlife Resource Library: https://bit.ly/2Xm3EbO.

General guidelines for clean-up when a sick bird is found:

• Remove feeder for at least three weeks

• Clean feeder with soap and water

• Disinfect feeder with a 10 percent bleach solution

• Wash all nearby surfaces and rake the ground around the feeder (wear gloves when possible)

• Wash your hands (humans can contract salmonella too)

    1. I read about this from the Portland Audubon, so I was on the lookout. I have never had these bird in my yard before this year. I spotted a pine sisikin with puffed up feathers and lethargy this week and immediately took my feeder down. The weirdest thing happened – I walked outside to get closer to the bird and got within a foot of it before it took off, but when it did, a SWARM of hummingbirds (7+) followed it and continued to dart around it, but not attacking. They followed it to a neighbors shrub and I could see the swarm for bolting around for at least 5 minutes. The hummingbirds are pretty aggressive, but this was just puzzling.

      1. You should not need to take down hummingbird feeders unless other birds are going to it and perching on it. Most birds do not go to hummingbird feeders as it has nothing to offer them. Only hummingbirds drink nectar/hummingbird food.

        1. i have seen small birds drink from my flat hummingbird feeder. They hang off the rod that suspends the feeder and poke their beak into the flower shaped holes. I have a water dish for the birds, so I just thought the other birds wanted sweet water, too????
          this year 2021 Jan was the first I have seen of that behavior.

  1. I saw the mycobacterium problem 10 years ago in New York the Hudson valley. The finches notably the house finch were developing infections in their eyes effecting their ability to see therefore they die of starvation because of it. It has since calmed down a bit but it’s still out there

  2. I live in Coeur d Alene Idaho and have found 4 of the little guys dead in my yard. Two days ago I raked the yard, cleaned the feeders and moved them to another location. I also change the water in the birdbath everyday.

    1. I live in Atlanta, Georgia and I as well as my neighbors have had large flocks of pine siskins at our feeders.
      This started several weeks ago. We have not noticed any sick birds. I have never had them before and appreciate
      Knowing why they are here. Thank you.

    2. I am so glad my local newspaper posted a story about this Jan 23 2021.
      About 1 month ago, I noticed some siskins or finches in my feeder. (Puffed up, slightly lethargic, but eating the shelled sunflower seeds that I put out.) I am horrified I did not think about it being a communicable disease/bacteria.)
      I will NOT put out feeders until late March 2022.
      I have been washing my clear plastic feeders in automatic dishwasher. Does that disinfect? Must I use bleach?
      Also, I have window feeders for hummingbirds.
      I have been washing the glass bowls feeders (with soft plastic top) in dishwasher also. Does that disinfect safely? I wash every 2 days.
      Does salmonella affect Chickadees?
      Thank you

  3. I live in massachusetts and have not seen any of those birds only bluejays, chickadees and other small birds,my bird feeder is always cleaned

  4. Thank you for the information. This helps to explain what we experienced several days ago near Lake Serene. We first noticed an unusual abundance of pine siskins on our window feeder. One of the siskins appeared sick in both behavior (lethargic) and appearance (feathers puffed out). It sought refuge in the feeder for the night and was lying lifeless the next morning.

      1. It’s very sad. We’ve had hundreds of Goldfinches and siskins at our feeders since September. Started seeing sick ones in Dec. Despite keeping feeders clean. Took feeders down two weeks ago. Cleaned *everything.* lots of finches still hanging around. Have seen other comments from wildlife vets saying it’s kind of a toss-up between illness and starvation. Hmmm. As far as I have read, hummingbird feeders should stay up. ASSuming they are kept fresh, clean and away from seed feeders.

        1. What do you think about co-locating suet feeders in the same tree as hummingbird feeders?

      2. Ugh, I’ve got a sick Pine Siskin inside right now. Noticed her awkwardly moving about the yard, sitting at the feeder for long periods, puffed up, swollen eyed. I thought she had crashed into a window but now realize she is exhibiting all the symptoms. Seems constipated too. I’ll be removing the feeders tomorrow but what do I do with this little one now? 🙁 I also have backyard chickens so I’m kind of worried.

        1. If you have the bird/can get it, then put it in a small (covered) cardboard box lined with a soft towel. Put a shallow bowl of water in with it, and put it in a warm and quiet place in your home until you can call PAWS tomorrow when they open at 8 am (they only take wildlife rescues with a prior phone call – 425-412-4040). There is nothing more that you can do, but that is certainly helpful.

          Please consider taking the bird feeders down tonight, not tomorrow. They get up and start eating well before most people do, and you don’t want them potentially feeding from an infected feeder early tomorrow morning. As for your chickens, they could contract Salmonella from the seed on the ground, so you may wish to consider covering the spaces under your feeders with a tarp to prevent them from getting at it. Finally, you are going to need to give their coop, etc. a good scrubbing, because chickens are a vector for Salmonella to humans. Best of luck to you!

  5. We saw this phenom all spring as well. We live in the Pacific Northwest and we would for nd dead siskins on the ground every day for around a month. I bet we removed 15 little bodies over a month period. We have noticed the winter influx and have had a few deaths. Interesting to learn about this issue but am unwilling to pull feeders for 3 weeks when all my other winter birds are looking to me for support. But it always makes me sad to find a small body on the ground!

  6. This was very helpful. Taken my bird feeders in for the second time this winter. I thought at first they were juvenile starlings. Put them back our and within a day was inundated. Can PAWS and MEN let us know when the irruption (a new word to learn) is over?

  7. I’ve been finding my little siskin’s on the ground but my daughter saw CoopersHawk grab one so I took my feeder down. I’ve found about 3-4 dead ones. Three weeks seems so long during the winter! Probably not safe for my dogs to be around either. Thank# for this information

  8. I had a couple of dead birds that happened to be Pine Siskins. I’ve had tons of them. I live trapped a cat so I thought I had taken care of the problem. Then I saw another later. I started looking on the Internet and found out about the issue. My birds had the symptoms.
    Heart broken to stop feeding but it’s the right thing to do. It’s our human entertainment but their lives are more important.
    I am in Arizona.

  9. We have no bird feeders. Plenty of bird friendly bushes trees. We have abundance of birds year around. If we have snow covering ground we may put out bird seed.
    I truly believe we should not be using bird feeders. They do more harm than good.

  10. I am in Colbert, WA just north of Spokane. We’ve had a huge influx of pine siskins, along with a very large number of other types of finches, nuthatches and chickadees. So far, I’ve found seven dead pine siskins, none of the other species seem to be affected. The siskin’s feathers are plumped up, they don’t fly well and are lethargic. I took my feeders down but am scattering seed in wide areas in different sections of our property. We don’t have a cat, but I’ve notified our neighbors with cats to be aware of the salmonella risk. They are such cute little birds. We’ve been enjoying them, though are sad about the deaths and taking the feeders down.

  11. Hmm? Would not ‘disinfectant’ left behind harm the good guys as well as the bad guys? Same for excrement from early feeders mixed with wet broadcast ‘food’ ? Be careful what you wash with.

  12. Just over the weekend I found 13 dead pine Siskins. Feeders are down now. So obviously Whidbey Island, WA has been infected. I live in Oak Harbor. I’ve told everyone I know about this problem. Most are resistant because they think the birds will starve. Which of course they won’t, but they’ll continue to die if the salmonella isn’t gotten under control.

  13. I have wondered about this. We have had an over abundance of Pine Siskens this year, and several have appeared lethargic. I will take the feeder down tomorrow. How long should it be kept down?

  14. Just found 3 dead Pine Siskins in our Atlanta, GA yard. We have been participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count and had huge numbers of them. We noticed a puffy looking Pine Siskin… sadly now we know what was going on. The dead birds however looked perfectly healthy. Poor little guys… Took feeders and bird bath down and posted on local neighborhood site. I’ll also share via FB. Thank you for posting this.

  15. Linville Falls, NC,-( western part of state in the mountains) have found 2 dead pine siskins so far. I guess the disease is here as well. Thanks for the info.

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