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California Songbird Die-Off: Bird Feeders and Baths May Be To Blame

Feb 21, 2016 07:30 AM EST

Following the death of hundreds of pine siskins, a small songbird that inhabits California's forested areas, state wildlife officials are asking that people empty their birdbaths and take down their bird feeders

Since early December there have been reports of at least 300 pine siskins found dead in the Redding area, as well as in the Central and South Coast regions. Scientists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) believe that Salmonellosis -- a fatal disease caused by Salmonella bacteria -- is largely to blame, and that infected bird feeders and birdbaths are partly responsible for the epidemic.  

Based on the number of reported deaths, officials estimate more than 1,000 pine siskins have died this winter from salmonella bacteria. The disease is easily spread when birds ingest contaminated food or water, or come in contact with objects, such as bird feeders, perches or soil that have feces left behind from infected birds. A similar outbreak occurred last winter, officials say.

"There are two important things that the public can do to help prevent bird deaths," Krysta Rogers, CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist and an avian disease specialist, explained in a news release. "First, they can remove all artificial sources of food and water such as bird feeders, bird baths and fountains. Secondly, they can report bird deaths to CDFW, particularly when large numbers of birds are found in an area. This information helps us to better monitor disease outbreaks so that we can take appropriate action."

Sick birds appear weak, have trouble breathing, and may sit for prolonged periods of time with fluffed or ruffled feathers. Salmonellosis is highly fatal in pine siskins, and most birds die within 24 hours of being infected. 

"The majority of the Salmonellosis reports we receive are from locations with backyard bird feeders," Rogers added. "These devices [bird baths and feeders] may aid in disease transmission between pine siskins, and possibly other bird species, by bringing the birds into closer contact than would occur normally."

Suspected outbreaks can be reported online at:

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